On Monday I went to speak at an elementary school career day for my two little cousins (both male). Paranoid that I would put kids to sleep, I went through several hours of preparation to make my 15 minute presentation exciting. I bought props, built in interaction and volunteer participation, came up with funny jokes, and planned for an experiment that involved yeast and a balloon.
But for the most part, I bombed.
I couldn’t compete with the firefighter and all his gear, or the policeman talking about catching criminals. And of course there was a magician and a basketball coach.
Who knows how many cells it takes to make a human? No, it’s actually 100 trillion. We have many different types of cells in our body that all have different functions. For instance take a look at these peanut M&Ms I sorted by color. Each represents a different type of cell. These blue M&Ms are your heart cells, these red ones are your skin cells, these green ones are your liver cells, and these orange ones are muscle cells. Notice how there are more orange M&M muscle cells than the others, just like in me since I have really big muscles. 😀
No one laughed, not even the teacher.
I talked to 3rd graders first and was very impressed with their zombie-like state. Even though they probably didn’t care about what I was saying, they appeared to be paying close attention. They stared at the front of the class while remaining completely still. They obediently raised their hands when I asked for participation, and no one spoke unless I called on them. They read questions from a worksheet given out by the teacher. The environment was robbing them of creativity and spontaneous excitement. Whenever a kid got distracted and started doodling or going through things in his desk, the teacher interrupted me to snap at him. This happened even more in the 1st grade class because they were not fully “trained.” I felt bad for them. They were being ordered around like soldiers.
Has anyone here had a can of Coke before? [Display empty can of Coke.] No matter where you buy coke, whether it be from the supermarket or a vending machine, from a different state or even a different country, Coke tastes exactly the same. Does anyone know why? The reason is because they follow a recipe, or process, when making it. How weird would it be if one day you opened a can of Coke and it tasted like Sprite? You wouldn’t like that very much probably. Now when making medicines, it is very important that every batch you make is exactly the same. You can’t have one batch that works while another doesn’t. If someone is sick, they need a batch that is guaranteed to work like it’s supposed to.
There were common themes in the classroom such as “Don’t talk out of turn” and “Always follow directions.” I saw posters in the hallway about honesty, trust, and sharing. I wondered if parents should be teaching these values instead.
After I was done, the teachers asked me leading questions…
“How important is sharing and caring?”
“How important is it to be on time?”
“How important is it to go to college?”
Sharing is useless in the adult world. I’m late almost every day yet have held down a job. And college is great only if you have a specific career in mind. I wussed out and answered how they wanted me to, letting the zombie children down. Teaching kids this utopia fantasy world is not going to help them be leaders and possess qualities that I think matters more than “sharing and caring,” like taking risks and being outspoken. I did resist once when the teacher asked me how I deal with conflict at work…
“Actually after work we go out back and fight.”
The kids’ eyes opened and for once that classroom felt alive! The teacher looked shocked and I took that as my cue to revert back to obedient world: “No actually we all sit down and talk about it like nice people.” The teacher added, “Yeah kids he was just joking.” I was being used to produce drones, followers. While the intention of the elementary school system is good, I think it saps creativity and free-thinking. Their individuality is being restrained simply to maintain order. I just hope the beta training academy doesn’t destroy my cousins.