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The Skills of Living

The Skills of Living

Issue 58 July 2009

After a long stretch of hard work, our son’s exams were upon us. He had to sit 13 papers in four days. It had been a stressful period for him and we wanted to buy him a gift. It was important to us to give the gift once the exams were fi nished but before the results were out. I wanted to reward the effort, not the results as I fi nd the idea of rewarding a child based upon how many As, Bs or Cs they got actually quite troubling. It is like buying their love for education, rather than inculcating a desire to learn for learning’s sake. The tricky question, of course, was what to buy him. The obvious electronic gadgets sprung to mind, and I was rather tempted by them. However, I quickly discounted that thought.

What do they really teach a child? What do they inspire? I wanted to give him something that might cultivate a sense of contemplation within him, although this is not always easy in today’s world.

The answer came in the form of a wooden spoon. He brought home a hand carved wooden spoon from an event he had been to. My husband said that he had watched spellbound as the man had carved it from a sycamore branch using a few hand tools. At school, our son loves Design and Technology, and so there was the answer. We bought him a set of wood carving tools, soft carving wood and a book on spoon carving. The latest techy gadgets may well have been more ‘cool’, and they might have even been cheaper, but here was something that could give expression to the creative side of him, away from the cerebral endeavours of the exams themselves.

I tell you all of this because it brings me to an issue that has troubled me throughout the whole examination process. Our world has become unrealistically demanding. We expect and require of our children more and more, but how much are we preparing them for life? How much room are we giving them to fi nd who they really are and what they want to give to the world? We cannot keep expecting of their minds without feeding their heart and their spirit. In addition, we have to prepare them for the practical realities of life. I have met far too many high achieving young people who have little or no artistic or creative expression; even worse, they cannot do basic cookery or use a washing machine. They may well have attended some of the finest universities in the country, but if they have no idea how to cook a basic meal, they are not really equipped to deal with reality.

My mother insisted that all her children – boys as well as girls could cook, clean, iron and sew. In addition, we all learnt how to wire a plug, unblock a drain, put in a window and change the tyre of a car. These skills have not only been enormously helpful in my life, they also engendered in me a ‘can do’ attitude, which gave me confidence. Through my grandmother I learnt how to bake, and the joy of kneading a loaf of bread and then seeing it rise is something which I still experience today and have passed on to one of my daughters who is on her way to becoming a fine baker. By watching mymother, I learnt to tailor clothes, to knit and to crochet, and as a struggling student made many beautiful outfi ts. When my children were babies I crocheted them cardigans and sewed them clothes. It was a pleasure that I missed greatly as my life got busier, but recently I have rediscovered my sewing machine in an attempt to teach the children to sew.

The practical and physical creative processes are something we should not ignore. In a mechanised and complex world, we seem to have lost so many skills, but I believe it is vital for our spiritual and emotional well-bring to rediscover arts, crafts and basic skills. This is why, this summer, once the demands of the mind have been satisfi ed by exams and other demands of academia, I recommend you teach your children a craft or a life skill. And if you yourself feel unequipped to teach them, then that is telling in itself – so put yourself on a course and learn together.

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1 Comment



12 Jul 09, 02:38

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Honest and decent and deeply
rooted in living for living: If only ALL editorials contained as
much guidance, humbleness, direction and sense of pride in
working hard for a stronger mind, heart & skill. Loved it.
Printed it out and stuck it on wall. Zaufishan, feeling unjustly
pressured but not succumbing.

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