Friday, January 15, 2010

How Safety Scissors Destroyed the Civilized World

It was a while ago that I remember reading a story/article/journal about scissors. Actually it was about taking the time to teach our children, but the example was safety scissors. The idea is this, that 50 years or so ago, before the invention of safety scissors, parents had to take the time to teach their children how to use these dangerous objects carefully. They of course took the time because TV hadn't been invented yet.

What does that have to do with anything you may ask, well before the invention of the electronic babysitting device parents had a choice, they could entertain children all day long or they could teach their children to entertain themselves. As it turns out only suckers and fools, and the occasional teacher, wants to spend all day focused on children.

During the olden days, and by olden I mean people older than me, were growing up they had to learn to be careful and take time to learn how to use something before they went ahead and started playing. Hence, the old saying, "it's all fun and games until someone loses and eye". With the invention of safety scissors children were free to grab a pair of scissors and run around the room cutting papers whily nilly. Children started to lose their sense of caution (started) and began doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. At first parents were grateful to be relieved from the duty of always keeping a close eye on their children. They could go about their business reasonably confident they would not need to pop any loose eyeballs back into sockets.

As inventors discovered that safety sold to young parents more and more safety devices were created. Suddenly a child could learn to ride a bicycle without fear of spilling brains all over the sidewalk or go to sleep without the fear of falling off the bed. But what has this new sense of safety done to our children. They have grown up without a sense of caution. They stretch limits of what can safely be done, such as backwrd flips on motorcycles. Soon the manufacturers of these tools make them more capable and safer and who knows what limits will be tested next.

Safety scissors were not a bad invention. I'm sure it prevented quite a few accidentally amputated fingers. It also, well probably not safety scissors in-specific, changed the nature of parenting. Parents were free to spend less time worrying about children. We spend less time actively engaging our children. We more often hand a toy or whatever off to our children and let them figure it out instead of showing them safe and proper ways of using it.

While this sounds like it might build the ability to reason I'm not so sure. I'm all for allowing children the time necessary to puzzle things out for themselves on the other-hand I think it is as important, if not imperative, to guide our children through the process of discovery. We humans have been around for many thousands of years, if we continually start from scratch we won't advance very fast. If however, we help the next generation along a bit, show them some common pitfalls to avoid or what not then perhaps they can learn what we already discovered without simultaneously losing their own ability to figure things out. In essence discovery learning, Montessori, constructive learning, et al is not letting kids discover at random, rather it is guiding children towards specific discoveries and letting them sort it out.

Teachers are paid to build lessons that guide learning. As parent though it can be easy to forget about the guiding part and just sort of let our children go... Here have an educational toy and learn the alphabet. Watch Super Why and learn how to spell? I guess because children are so naturally curious and love to learn we expect the learning to come naturally. Like our house plants though, if we don't give it a bit of care and attention that learning will wither and die.

So I guess I'm saying, next time your children are bored or just sitting around watching TV take ten minutes to let them teach you a good game that they know then perhaps let them know how that game is important without actually saying those exact words.

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