Cold weather, tacit learning and resilience

The Delta outpost of the Resilience Project is cold.  At least cold for Arkansas standards: 50 F.  That’s 10 C.  From this point both Fahrenheit and Centigrade are easy to navigate.  Every 10 degrees C you go up or down is equal to 18 degrees F.  So 68 F is 20 C, 86 F is 30 C, 104 F is way too hot.  0 C is 32 F.  -10 C is 14 F.  -20 C is -4 F. -30 C is way too cold.

lumberjackIt’s always a good 10-18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler at Meadowcreek.  So it could easy be freezing at Meadowcreek.  Hope everyone has the fires going.  Some Meadowcreekers are tough and like to sleep outside in weather like this.  I’m content to sleep by a window with a view of the clear night sky a fire roaring in the next room.

Everyone at Meadowcreek is anticipating winter.  Some of the signs say it will be a long and cold one.  If it is, we have plenty of wood and a couple of good lumberjacks.  One skill you really need at Meadowcreek is wood cutting.  You have to know which species are good for fire.  You have to spot trees of that species that are dead or dying, but not so old that they have rotted too much.  By the time they get that old, they probably have some useful mushroom growing on them so you wouldn’t cut them anyway.  If they aren’t dead, we don’t cut them at all.

You also need a bit of upper body strength.  We like to chop down a few trees every year with an axe, but mainly to just remember how hard it is and prove that we can still do it.  Mainly we use chain saws.  We prefer Stihl, but we have a cheaper Poulan which works fine, too.  You just get more value with a Stihl.  We talk every once in awhile about going back to stone axes and not using anything at Meadowcreek which isn’t made from stone and wood we find at Meadowcreek.  But even the oldest human inhabitants of Meadowcreek, the paleoindians, used materials and tools they imported from elsewhere.  So we justify using chainsaws and steel axes.

The type of chainsaw doesn’t matter near as much as maintenance.  Resilience is all about maintenance.  Now and then a newbie Meadowcreeker tries to cut corners and not use the right oil for the bar and chain or the engine and they destroy a chainsaw.  Since we are all about learning, we can’t get too mad.  Those things happen when you are learning.  But that person is less likely to be trusted with valuable equipment in the future.  Those who make wise use of 10 talents are much more likely to be trusted with 100 talents.

Sharpening the chain saw’s teeth is the most important maintenance task.  You can really destroy a chainsaw by forcing it to cut when the teeth are dull.  Don’t do it.  Learn how to sharpen the teeth on the chain.

The trouble with learning to do this is the same trouble with all useful learning.  It is learned by actual experience not by symbols.   From real life not from books.

So much of education is from symbols written in books: formal learning.  Kids in US schools nowadays may never learn anything except from a book.  They really aren’t learning much at all.  The best among them rebel because they know they are being short-changed.  They are bored because they are learning nothing useful.  So, of course discipline is hard to maintain in US schools.

Some teachers try to introduce experiential learning.  They help tacit learning take place.  Students learn by manipulating real objects, not by just manipulating symbols in their brains.  They are less likely to get bored and more likely to learn something useful.

So if you want to live at Meadowcreek, you have to learn to sharpen a chainsaw.  And you don’t do that from a book.  You learn by doing.  Preferably with someone who has been taught by someone else who has been taught by someone else who really knew how to do it.

We really believe in apprenticeship at Meadowcreek and wonder why American education has largely lost the apprenticeship component.  German, Austrian and Swiss education for high school students still incorporates apprenticeships.  The German system does have a rigorous formal learning track (at schools called “gymnasiums”) but Germans are practical and know that the real resilience of a society depends on those with tacit knowledge of how to manipulate real objects, not just symbolic ones.

In the German system, children aged three to six, may attend kindergarten. After that, school is compulsory for nine or ten years. From grades 1 through 4 children attend elementary school (Grundschule), where the subjects taught are the same for all. Then, after the 4th grade, they are separated according to their academic ability and the wishes of their families, and attend one of three different kinds of schools:Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium. Grundschule teachers recommend their students to a particular school based on such things as academic achievement, self-confidence and ability to work independently. However, in most German states, parents have the final say as to which school their child attends following the fourth grade.

The Hauptschule (grades 5-9) teaches the same subjects as the Realschule andGymnasium, but at a slower pace and with some vocational-oriented courses. It leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18.

The lucky students in Hauptschule only have to go to school until 9th grade.  Then they learn some real, practical skill from someone who really knows how to do something, not just some schoolteacher.  By 18 they have useful skills they can put to work helping their community, their families and their nation.

The Realschule (grades 5-10 in most states) leads to part-time vocational schools and higher vocational schools. It is now possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to switch to a Gymnasium on graduation.

The Gymnasium leads to a diploma called the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential. Curricula differ from school to school, but generally include German, mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, art (as well as crafts and design), music, history, philosophy, civics, social studies, and several foreign languages. In recent years many States have changed the curriculum so students can get the “Abi” at the end of the 12th grade. Other States are making the transition but may still require a 13th grade.

Nowhere is sports mentioned.  You can go to school in a Gymnasium and never set foot in a gymnasium.  Sports are valued in Germanic countries as wonderful ways of staying healthy, but they are not allowed to interfere with learning.  Unlike American schools, where sports are king.  As my neighbor said during last Friday’s last football game of the season, “at [school name redacted to hide the guilty] you aren’t anybody unless you play football.”  He was talking about the guys, I guess girls have to be cheerleaders to “be anybody.”

All I know is it’s leading to vulnerability–what’s left over when resilience disappears.  And resilience is disappearing fast from American society.  We’re trying to keep it alive at Meadowcreek.  Wish others were too.


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