I thoroughly enjoy taking the Enigma--my 15-year-old son--to his orthodontist appointment. Or taking him shopping for shoes. Or, like today, out to the accessory store to pick out a gift for the girl whose birthday party he's attending on the weekend. Not that I particularly like sitting in waiting rooms, or pawing through racks and racks of cheap jewelry--well okay, I do kinda like that--but the point isn't the errand or appointment itself...so much as the journey we must make to get there.
Because, invariably, these journeys involve long car rides together, with lots of empty minutes to fill as we both stare out across the asphalt that is whizzing beneath our tires. With all my sons I have found these trips to be some of the most fun and productive times for communicating and getting to know what's going on in their lives. Even more so with my at times closed, and often enigmatic, second born--ie. the Enigma.
Today we had barely gotten into the car when I heard, "So what do you wanna talk about?" My heart soared. But before we eased into the more personal topic of his friendships, frustrations and desires, we started with a slightly less personal topic--labour unions. And, surprisingly, that is what I want to talk about here today.
No, I'm not going to educate you on something I'm sure you all know about...the pros and cons of unions. Nor am I going to lament the reasons why I and many of my colleagues were heartbroken when a union vote went south at our hospital a few weeks ago...although I did talk to the Enigma about all that. What shocked me, however, about this encounter was the fact that when I mentioned the recent union vote to my son his first question was, "What's a union?"
I was, momentarily, taken aback. He'd never heard of a union? REALLY? Of course I don't begrudge for one moment the task of educating my son in matters of every day living. And I have done so repeatedly over the years. I vividly recall conversations with my children, explaining to them how a credit card works. What's the difference between a credit card and a debit card? What is a mortgage? What's the difference between that and a regular loan? Not to mention the discussions we've had about sex, sexual freedom and religion. It is my job as a parent to prepare my children for life as a responsible adult, but...isn't that also the job of the school system?
A few weeks ago I was quite chagrined to see a test that String Bean (third-born son who is 13 years old, 6 feet tall and all of 120 pounds) had brought home from literature class. He'd done very poorly on identifying all the literary devices that were illustrated in various passages. Literary devices that I, a published author, had trouble identifying. In fact, several of them, I had never heard of. At the time I was saddened to see that the school system is still bent and determined to dissect and analyze and generally suck all the life and enjoyment out of so much of literature, but now....now...my question is....
How is it that the school system has all this time to teach kids about literary devices and historical facts that teach very little if anything in the way of critical thinking, and have little or no relevance to their every day lives...and yet they have no time to teach them simple, basic skills of living in our twenty-first century society?
Certainly theoretical math is an essential skill, but so is the mechanics of debt and loan. Credit cards and mortgages. Things like what you should look for when renting an apartment or buying a condo. What about insurance? What are the pros and cons of using an insurance agent, and what are the advantages of term vs. full life insurance? What does an employer expect from a good employee? And what are your rights as an employee according to the federal and provincial laws? What are all the deductions for on your pay stub? What are all the taxes for? What does it mean to belong to a labour union? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Certainly history is important. We can't truly understand where we are until we know where we've come from. But what about teaching kids how to look at the world around them right now!? My kids should understand the basic reasons and the political context of the war in Afghanistan. The issues at work in the Middle East. And NATO and European economies. This is current day, relevant information that is all but ignored in classrooms. And I would love to see our kids learn how to read and watch the media and understand what they're seeing.
These are basic life skills!!
My children are fortunate to have parents who take the time to discuss these things with them. Our children are free to see our pay stubs. They know what we earn and what we spend our money on. And we discuss things as they come up personally or in the news, but many many parents do NOT take the time to talk about these things. So you will often have kids graduating highschool who still don't know enough to check their pay stubs to make sure they're not getting ripped off. Or who have no idea what that "union dues" deduction is for. How our health care is paid for, and what our tax dollar gets us.
Well, okay...sometimes as an adult even I ask THAT question, but...perhaps you see my point.
In my opinion our school system is falling down on the job. Yes, they are teaching our children some valuable skills, but they're missing the boat on so many others. The thing is...now that I've pinpointed this issue what do I do about it?? Perhaps a letter to my Member of Parliament and local school board is in order.
It wouldn't be the first time.
So read, comment, ask questions, rant and rave...but most of all enjoy and open your mind to possibilities!