What is sand?

A teacher I know was relating a common occurrence in her 4th grade classroom.  In a discussion about the early days of westward expansion and pioneers, a story included a mention of sand.   One of the children raised their hand and said, “I don’t know what sand is.”   So this teacher paused the story to explain that sand is that stuff you see at beaches, or often in playgrounds….  blank looks all around.    (It must be noted that the geographical location of this classroom is within a mile or two of sand beaches.)

The lesson continued, and  the kids didn’t know and couldn’t guess what kind of animals the pioneers might have encountered in the wild.   One child guessed “elephants”.   The kids didn’t know what animals howled, even when this teacher demonstrated the sound.   One student’s response was,  “an owl”.

This teacher maintains that unless the students have been specifically instructed in a subject or a task, they are completely ignorant of it.   They have zero real world knowledge.

The same conversation revealed that this phenomenon is not limited to children.   After a family  meal when a 24 year old woman was asked to wash dishes (they were at a relative’s house and that person did not own a dishwasher), she had to ask for help.   Apparently she’d never washed a dish and didn’t know how to go about it.

The children in this particular classroom come from a broad range of socio-economic levels, and the young woman is from an upper middle class family.

What exactly is going on here?

We have a dishwasher, and yet my kids know how to wash dishes.   When they were little, both Maya & Ben used to ask if they could wash the dishes for fun.  And sand?  Even had we never visited a beach, they would recognize sand from playgrounds and barring even that, from photos or stories or maybe….”Spongebob”.

My daughter’s schooled friend (who I sometimes use as a resource for ‘school’ information) looked appalled when I mentioned these things to her, and said she knew no one who was that ignorant “even at nine years old”.

And yet, I doubt the teacher is making it up.   According to her this is par for the course in all of her classes.   Is this an instance of parents being so removed from their kids that absolutely NO information gets imparted outside of school?  And how is that even possible if you live in the same house?  (And especially with younger kids, who, in my experience ask a lot of questions.)

I’m hoping this is an anomaly or a regional phenomena, but even so it’s troubling.

What do we do when the ability to wash a dish or recognize sand is lost?   And what’s next?   It kind of reminds me of this poem/proverb:

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


Perhaps unschoolers are the “keepers of the nails”

2 comments on “What is sand?

  1. adrian says:

    Hi Amy,

    I stumbled across your site looking for Rodriguez and I think I like your direction.
    A teacher of mine once told me in junior high that his guess is 97% of education takes place outside of school. I do believe this is true in essence.

    I have been living in Germany for many years now and my impression is that, although many people here are wise to the facts, a great dumbing down is in progress.
    It is hard for me to fathom this, but I hear or see so much evidence every day.

    I’ll continue reading your blog.
    Adrian /Munich, Germany

    • Amy says:

      Thank you Adrian!
      I would agree with your teacher wholeheartedly. I had a similar experience with a teacher, which is probably one of the reasons my husband and I chose to unschool.


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