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21st Century Kids Need Real Skills

By Dr. Arthur Robinson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #54, 2003.

Wanted: 21st century kids who know how to do real work.
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Dr. Arthur Robinson

Booker T. Washington, the legendary black educator revered both in the South and in the North during the decades following the Civil War, taught his people that they should work hard to produce things that would enhance the lives of their fellow men. He preached that, as they exchanged their productive work with their neighbors, they would be respected for their skills, and people would stop being foolish about the color of their skins.

Professor Washington was right, as one could make the case that the entire Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gained its power from the respect already earned by productive black people whose parents and grandparents had followed Washington's advice.

Remarkably, however, Americans as a whole have now fallen into the snare that Washington warned against. They have forgotten that human affairs requires that each person exchange the fruits of productive skills with his neighbors.

The vast majority of young Americans are simply no longer willing to work. Moreover. in our schools and universities, the work ethic is not even taught.

Increasingly, Americans engage themselves in a paper-shuffling game in which they endeavor to move a little more of America's decreasing wealth to their side of the table. They do not save for the future. Instead, they gamble in the markets. When the markets turn sour, they gamble with their homes. The poorer people, without a gambler's stake, just buy lottery tickets.

Does this affect homeschooling? Yes! And in the most fundamental way. As Rudyard Kipling brilliantly pointed out in his poem "The Gods of the Copy Book Headings" (reproduced below), fundamental truths remain unchanged. We cannot wish them away because we would rather they were not there. Kipling's poem refers to the educational practice of having students copy passages from great works of literature, including the Bible, in order to improve their composition and penmanship. The books to be copied were usually chosen to teach the student fundamental truths during the exercises, and the "gods" to which he refers are the great thinkers of the ages, not pagan deities.

A family that produces nothing of real value cannot expect other families - whether they be American, Chinese, or Mexican - to continue to produce things of value and and provide them for no real value in exchange.

The great flywheel of American industry is slowing down. It can no longer resist the drag of excessive taxation, regulation, and litigation. Our productive industries are being replaced by those of other nations. Will those nations - during the 21st Century - continue to provide Americans with goods and services regardless of the increasing reality that Americans are producing little to provide them in return?

Not long ago, a front page article in the Wall Street Journal was entitled "It's Not Cool to Make Things Any More." In it, the president of a manufacturing company lamented that people no longer respected his occupation. They were impressed primarily by those who became rich without productive work.

It is easy to succumb to the trends of one's civilization - even within the framework of an independent homeschool. It is easy to prepare your students for a life of paper shuffling at some mindless occupation that seems to be a soft road to riches. Please don't do it!

The world will always need scientists, engineers, inventors, machinists, physicians and veterinarians, farmers, and productive workers. It will always have a surplus of paper shufflers and others who prefer not to work.

No one knows what the 21st century will bring. We do know, however, that it will need people who can and will do things. Be sure you teach your students a strong work ethic and skills that will enable them to use it.

There is an old saying, "There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who do the work, and those who take the credit." The saying advises that one should be among those who do the work - because there is less competition.

The 21st century will belong to those who do the work. They will receive the satisfaction of productive effort, the wealth of goods and services that others will exchange with them, and the confidence of knowing that their skills will always be needed. Be sure your homeschooled student is trained to be among them.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

(The following imagery of Kipling’s was meant in the spirit of Psalm 82, which Jesus quoted in John 10:35–36, that refers to earthly leaders as “gods.” Kipling is applying the poetic term “gods” to all literary and philosophical influences—both the foolish “Market-Place” flatterers and the wise “Copybook Headings” sages. The point here is, “Are our lives based on the hard truths, or flattering lies?”—Editor)

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market- Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn.
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market, Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true,
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began—
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins,
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

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