How can we fill idle time with constructive, positive pursuits?

April 28, 2019

By John Wiley:

This is what is resonating in my discussions with people about the book.

This book is not about schools -- schools play an important role, but it is not about schools. The book is about how to end the cycle of poverty, beginning with teenagers. The enemy is idle time from 3 to 6 p.m., during summer vacations and in the classrooms where lecturing and reading a textbook are the primary teaching methods. Not all teachers are good lecturers day after day, year after year.

So how do we fill idle time?

We fill the largest amount of idle time with apprenticeships as early as we can possibly start them.

We can, if we decide to do it, introduce middle school kids to work tasks by regularly spending one to three hours during the school year and in the summers, as volunteers,  helping their lives and our community.

My wife, who was quite shy, so fondly recalls Miss Oakey, who was her teacher when her parents moved into a new home at the beginning of her sixth grade. Miss Oakey had her come into her classroom to clean the blackboard and tidy up a bit ... and they talked about poetry. During the seventh grade, she and her best friend were asked to work in the lunch room handing out trays of food to the kids in the lunch program. This was in 1951 to 1953. This was experiential teaching. The girls, who were both shy, got worked into school in a dignified, practical, fun way.

Maybe we start them with menial jobs in the community, where they experience doing things responsibly, perhaps as early as their freshman or sophomore years -- where they earn their way, where they can do simple things well and earn their way to an apprenticeship for their junior and senior years, where they experience work being worthwhile, achieving something, enjoying the positives that everyone feels when they get the satisfaction of work well done. Work is dignified and valuable.

It is our communities' responsibility to provide and appreciate work well done, even at the simplest level. When I went to Russia with the Sister Cities project, little old ladies were hand-sweeping the streets with brooms they made from fresh cut branches. The Russians didn’t say this, but cleanliness was next to Godliness. When I went to Haiti and a revolution was brewing, garbage was all over the streets. In the good times the streets were relatively clean. People lived in a clean way. Humble work is valuable. It teaches us all that each of us who are contributing is valuable and their work is appreciated. This is a community place to start occupying idle time in a positive, constructive way. Kids love to be important, to be complimented, to help.

Work at school is needed, it is dignified, it teaches, engages. Simple work anywhere in the community is needed to occupy time in the freshman and sophomore years. The community needs to occupy idle time constructively -- volunteer time, paid time, it doesn’t matter. We need to respect employment laws and the children from abuse, but we need to engage them for a couple of hours after school, particularly AT-RISK young people. To quote the comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Simple jobs, cleaning house for a neighbor, cutting the lawn, going to the store. The police department, having at-risk kids putting a “set a  good example for me” courtesy warning on car wipers for overtime parkers; retailers, forming the folding brigade to fold clothing or straightening shelves; the parks department weeding the gardens in our parks. Imagine what five or six kids could learn and contribute with one employee helping out the kids as they garden. Kids need positive experiences. You know “it takes a community to raise a child!” Some of the most rewarding experiences in life can be when you mentor a good kid who may be at risk by teaching work in your neighborhood.

These work experiences extend into summers, and suddenly life is becoming valuable because it creates value in the minds of young people that they are needed, important and a better job is a goal when they can apply for apprenticeships when they get to high school. The American Dream is imagined.

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