Education
    Education is so multifaceted that it is difficult for me to know where to begin discussing it, or how to prioritize the many factors. Relaying my own experience is easy: I had a standard classroom approach, supplemented by inordinate reading. In only the briefest and least memorable instances did I receive any individual tutoring.
    Education is commonly thought of as the job of schools. Adults cry "educate our children!" Everyone has opinions about the best way to do the job. It is of urgent importance, and all the numerous factors are much studied, debated, and new (or old) ideas continually tested or retested. Some people say "it's as simple as . . . " and then name their pet peeve or passion. My view is not of an education specialist, but of one who loves sharing what I learn, and owes much to educators. Since I don't have an educational theory neatly worked-out, nor an outline of my perceptions, my intent is to address each educational ingredient that comes to my mind. After I've said what I think about each topic, readers may have a fair comprehension of my philosophy.
    First comes sensitivity. If a person be insensitive, be it from numbing cold, exhaustion, drugs, genetic makeup, or upbringing, then the process of education is bogged down, and results come only after great efforts. Sensitivity in my integrated meaning is broad, covering literally the senses, so that deaf and blind people are less sensitive, as well as people whose senses work perfectly, but whose receptivity or thought processes are blunted for whatever reason. A person can be insensitive in one way, such as blind, and extraordinarily sensitive in another way, such as in hearing. It is also possible to be so ultra-sensitive that the result is disadvantageous. I expect no argument in asserting that a normal sensitivity is a healthy, indispensable ingredient for optimal education.
    Sensitivity can be heightened or blunted by education. It is intertwined with curiosity. An ideal education affords numerous and varied opportunities for students to touch, see, smell, listen, hear; to spark their curiosity. When I was a child the things that pleased me were largely other than the plants which have earned me a living as an adult. For example, I collected postage stamps, played basketball, was fond of listening to music, played all manner of games, but dealt only in a neutral, uninspired fashion with plants. The one thing that was constant and of supreme importance was my love of reading. I don't recall why, but by an early age, say age 9, I was a phenomenal reader of books, a habit that persisted all the way until college.
    Reading expands one's mind immensely. It fires the imagination, demonstrates grammar, teaches vocabulary, informs, challenges, helps one relax. In some cases it forces the mind to concentrate, as to understand. It can help build a moral or ethical framework, and help oneself form an individual worldview. Even an untraveled child, sitting at home, can be transported by a book into any place or time. Fantasy and facts weave together, but the result is almost an unmitigated improvement. If a bookworm grows up to be antisocial or worse, it is not because of too much reading, but because something else was lacking in the education or caregiving.
    Hands-on learning is another factor difficult to overrate. Imagine trying to learn to draw from listening to a lecture. You must draw, draw, draw, and with time and tutoring, will improve. This is a truism, just like saying "reading is valuable." I imagine nobody complains about children spending too much time working. If anything the contrary complaint rings loudly. What I don't begin to know is the ideal breakdown, according to age, of reading, listening to instruction, and working or hands-on time.
    What about technology in excess? Before the age of printing and cheap paper, comparatively few people could become learned. Now, theoretically, our electronic age makes learning easier than ever. Well, technology is indisputably better. We can store and retrieve data much more efficiently. We can communicate in a flash. But still, at the basic level, we must be well grounded -- we must possess common sense, civil manners, frank discussion skills, reasoning abilities, and moral fiber. It is possible to be a technological genius, say a computer nerd, without social skills or civil conscience. I'd rather have as a neighbor an illiterate janitor with an easy-going, friendly disposition. Hence, I value what we might call character more than specialist knowledge from an antisocial person. God knows we want everyone to be a well-mannered genius. But humans are not cut out to be happy like pigs in a pen. We instead have insatiable brains, with mental appetites. So our goal is to balance the brainwork with hearts and smiles. "Facts served with sauce."
    Where does common sense fit on? Is it teachable? To a degree, what we mean by common sense is simply learned experience. Something more exists, though. Those who we praise for common sense may be quick-witted, steady-nerved, and efficient at practical decision-making. It is likely some of those traits depend on genetic brain makeup. In any case, for purposes of an essay on education, I propose to say no more about common sense.
    Similarly, where do concentration, reflection, analysis and criticism enter? Are they best taught individually, or learned wholly as byproducts of studying mathematics, geography, history, etc? It is obvious that such skills are more valuable than any single subject which might be used as the vehicle to develop them.
    Inequality. Some students, subjected to identical classwork, learn rapidly and progress, while others fail. How can we predict success or failure, and compensate the at-risk children? Few practical options may be available to teachers. It is inevitable in universal public schooling that the extreme students, either dull or bright, will be hurt by our emphasis on the average. It is horrible to admit, but our society cannot assume that all members are capable of being well educated. We have unequal physical, mental and environmental status, and the poorer fringe will always exist. Those of us lucky enough to have a conscience, mature enough to see how things really are, must do what we can to help the less fortunate.
    Obligation to help. How can a rich person help a poor one? By giving some money? Well, can smart, or educated people give education to those needing it? Sometimes just taking the time to discuss things with troubled people is a great favor and aid. I don't have much surplus money to give to worthy causes, yet donate my time freely. I don't pretend to be able to educate in general -- but do know enough about plant life in Seattle to be valuable teaching that. I suppose I could share my plant knowledge with a single student, or several, and it wouldn't make much difference to me. The whole role of apprenticeship and master-apprentice needs to be expanded beyond its present confines of carpentry, masonry, electricity, and the like.
    It is true all of us are genetically capable of only so much; that our upbringing and education can be the same yet we turn out differently because of our genes. Well, how should you or I raise kids? Or if we don't want to be parents, how do we help educate children in general? Most mature adults feel a responsibility to both self-education and assisting others; the majority even tax themselves to help educate others.
    Schooling choices are varied. If money was not problematic I would send my kids to the best schools. If money is lacking (and so far, it is) I'd send them to the best public schools within reasonable proximity. Home education is an alternative idea, and I won't rule it out, but need to learn more about it first. My hunch is, even average Seattle public schools can turn out well rounded, capable students, if the students receive excellent support at home. I say this because I've met such students. Also, some private schools kids have turned out to be unsuccessful.
    Probably a loving, involved family atmosphere, in which such things as reading, game-playing, shared meals and other activities all go on routinely -- is more valuable than monetary wealth with a sterile family life. Sure, children can always grow up to beat the odds. But I'd rather cast my vote for public schools and the Republicans' "strong family values" over a private school upbringing that had joyless family life. Yes, the best is to have your cake and eat it, too. But although wealth just won't go around, love, sharing, reading, good manners -- are within the reach of all of us.
    Can't win 'em all, or predict. Some kids rebel no matter what. If we try our best to raise virtuous, well behaved, thoughtful offspring, and they nonetheless become sociopaths, vulgar ingrates -- then it is sad, but not something we could foresee or help. Sometimes peer pressure, or odd brain chemistry, or some trauma, warps our kids beyond reach. It's just tragic. But likewise, sometimes out of the ashes of broken families, and from squalid conditions, angelic children grow up. Against all odds, some kids grow to be excellent adults, in ways that amaze us.
    I once asked a woman who's raised about a dozen kids if she had happy returns with all. "No," she replied, "some did well, others didn't." Same with the kids I grew up with. Isn't it fairly obvious? I say do the best you are able in raising your kids, as in anything else, but don't expect miracles, nor expect that it is a simple formula like in logic. Alas, with educational matters and child-rearing, it is possible to give love, nurturing, superb tutoring or library access, and still end up with an unresponsive child. Such is life.
    As for class size, I think kids in quantity learn better, on average, than isolated children. I would like my children to have many friends, not few. This, too, I see as obvious. I'd rather have a house full of mess-making kids, than just one, lonely and uninspired. On the other hand, perhaps a student could learn enormously more from a tutor than in a classroom packed with other students. Again, there must be an ideal ratio, plus age considerations, as well as the nature of the topic being taught, to consider.
    A pet peeve of mine is how competitive athletics play an excessive role in schools. Schools cannot limit their scope to mere teaching of abstractions, such as algebra and grammar. They also need to instruct about health, including diet and exercise. Yet sports programs take too much money and time, which otherwise could be used in artistic endeavors, or to buy more computers and books or special tutors. I especially loathe collegiate athletics, which become farm teams for professional clubs. These have no valid role at institutions of higher learning.
    The whole issue of scholastic competition needs careful review. Presently, space is so limited at many universities, and demand so high, that only students with the highest grades are accepted. Let us expand our ability to enroll students, and aim to admit all qualified applicants. This exclusion of non-A students bothers me more than high tuition rates do. Students in college can work summer jobs, such as fishing off Alaska, to earn their tuition; it is not necessary for parents or taxpayers to pay their way.
    Scholarships, based on deserving factors, are okay if endowed by private giving. I like to hope that even students of poor grades yet much promise might thereby get a chance to excel, as would very poor or otherwise handicapped ones. With the grades I received in high school, I did manage to get accepted by the University of Washington in 1980. But today there is no way I would've made the cut, thanks to increased competition. Yet I am one of many who could justify poor grades; in my case they had to do with factors other than lack of intelligence or studious nature.
    Balance and timing are keys to education. Our minds work differently while engaged in various tasks, such as in chess, mathematics, paint, or writing. Each pursuit must be given ample time for the experience to be memorable, yet not eat too much time. I hear of some children who watch excessive television, or who never do any school homework, or are technical wizards yet know nothing of getting their hands dirty outside playing. Even as we must vary the curriculum for the sake of the mind, we must vary it with the ideal seasons and age levels of students.
    At what developmental stage children should be exposed to various subjects is wholly unfamiliar to me. I recall my love of art in the 3rd grade, of science in 8th grade, of comparative literature in 11th grade. Probably each student learns at an individual pace, and has personal likes and dislikes, yet overall some fair generalizations can be made about what approach usually works best for most children at various ages.
    Education for adults is so much different. Almost all of my teaching has been directed to adults. I've dealt with preschoolers, elementary and junior high school kids exclusively in my role as a plant expert showing them the joy and wonder of wild plants. Until I do more teaching children, I can't say I've developed any insights or made any guidelines, except I know all students respond to enthusiasm and like to become fascinated.