J and I were talking yesterday about cultural literacy. At playgroup on Tuesday, one of the kids asked what this gully in the woods was, and J replied it was where the old trolley line used to run, and the kid asked, “what’s a trolley?” Now, the child in question is, I think, six years old, and “trolley” is not an everyday word or concept. But it started J, and then myself when we talked about it, to thinking.
There is no worthless information.
I just seconds ago, saw on Twitter that someone purchased some of Justin Bieber’s hair for $40,000. You may think this is worthless information. But in my life, in teaching my children about the world, this information is a source of wisdom. It shows that people make poor financial decisions when their emotions are involved. It shows the power of celebrity. It shows, with a bit of explanation from me, that there’s a sucker born every minute and that there always has been. It shows, with a different bit of explanation, how celebrity is changing in the age of the internet. A change, I might note, that is no change at all to my kids. This is their world; they don’t recall the age of mass-broadcast television or radio.
The Bieber hair example is a bit extreme, and I did not actually stop and explain it to the kids or make a teaching point out of it. But while going over the BBC website before breakfast I did have the kids watch a clip, in addition to the news from Libya, about the New York 1970s SoHo art scene. There is no worthless information.
This attitude I have towards knowledge, this is not a value universally held among people I know. It’s not even universally held among homeschoolers. I suspect it is valued more among academics and geeks. I look at the kids I know, the ones who are my kids’ ages, who can’t read yet and I am vaguely horrified. It’s not that they are behind in any sense. I mean, in a typical school curriculum in the U.S. first and second grades are spent learning to read. This is normal, acceptable, and on-track. It’s that they are wasting valuable reading years. Think of all the books going UNREAD.
It’s not just books, though, that hold information. There’s music — classical, pop, musicals, whatever. There’s movies and television — documentaries, sure, but also Disney and Gnomeo and Juliet or Spy Kids. All of these things, if they provide no other information whatsoever, can be an example of what NOT to do or say.
For example, last night on the way back from circus class we were listening to the kids’ most recent pop music playlist. I make these playlists on my Zune and we listen to them when I drive them around. This particular mix had Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R.” After listening to it three times at K’s request, M said, “the people in this club are kind of like Team Rocket, aren’t they?”
I nearly did a fist-pump of joy.
Team Rocket, for those not immersed in the world of Pokemon, are a Pokemon crime syndicate. They are self-absorbed, stylish, ruthless, arrogant, and goal-oriented. They are also an attractive sort of bad guy, with good clothes and hair — they are more mature, or they try to be.
The gist of the Ke$ha song is that the people in the bar or club are going to drink and dance as much as they like, uncaring of anyone else’s opinions or judgment, and refuse to apologize for who and what they are.
“Yes,” I told M. “The people in this song are kind of like Team Rocket.”
There is no worthless information. Recognizing selfish, self-absorbed people, even when they sound interesting and are having a lot of ostensible fun, this is a valuable life skill. My GOODNESS, I wish I had picked it up sooner.
I’m not saying that my kids won’t make poor relationship mistakes in the future, ahahahhahahahha, no, I am not claiming that. But this, this is a start, a step in navigating the extremely complex world of social networks and interactions. Those things are hard, the skills are learned from practice, usually on real people. And if my kids can get an assist from Pokemon and Ke$ha, good for them.