"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Zion's Traditional Arts Project (Keeping the Flame Alive)

A friend of mine at my church, who I'll call J., has had a pet project for awhile now. One of many projects, actually - she is the kind of woman who, in addition to raising her children, running the family farm, and helping run the family business also volunteers for the PTA, and generally manages to be a pillar of her community. The kind of woman I admire but will never, ever be.

The project - this one-of-many projects - is a series of community classes to teach traditional arts to local children. J. has the idea that it would be a good thing to offer a series of ongoing saturday morning classes in the church basement to teach any local kids who are interested some basic life skills. For a very nominal fee (which is waived if it is a burden in any particular case) children can come and learn beginning skills in sewing, cooking, knitting or crocheting, canning and other methods of food preservation, et cetera.
This list is heavy on the feminine arts, I realize. It looks a little like an old fashioned home-ec class, though not as comprehensive. I would love to see the list of skills offered expanded to include things like basic first aid, basic gardening skills, how to change a tire and do an oil change on a car, familiarity with tools and basic home repair, etc. I may take the opportunity to talk with J. and ask her if any of the gentlemen of Zion have expressed an interest in offering a course.

J., like many women of her general type, is long on enthusiasm and short on time. She is a boundless fount of ideas, but sometimes realizes she may have bitten off a mite more than she can chew and has to ask for help. Last week, she was asking for people to help her teach a class or two this series. Well, I have fairly limited skills, but I am devoted to the idea of passing along what meagre skills I have to the next generation.

It is my firm belief that the children of today will have greater need of self-sufficiency than many of their parents did or do. I believe that many of the goods and services we take for granted may become very much more expensive in the coming decades, if they do not completely cease to exist. Running down to the corner store for a frozen pizza may become an unaffordable luxury. Ditto taking the car in for a quick oil change and check of the belts and hoses. Throwing away clothing because the hem is frayed or the buttons lost may become a completely ridiculous idea in the not-too-distant-future. It is my belief that the simple, homely skills of mending, fixing, patching, and preserving will become much more important, and soon.

Many venues have sprung up of late to teach some of the trendier skills (homebrewing, cheesemaking) to adults. This is all to the good. Hooray for non-traditional "universities" and learning co-operatives. I hope to participate in many such forums and wish them all the luck in the world. But what my friend J. is trying to do is something simpler, and more basic. She - and I - hope to in still in our local children something more important than any given skill. We want them to gain what I would call the habit of competence. I want my kids to believe that they can do a great number of various things, and what they can't do now, they can learn to do. I want them to not feel helpless.

For the class I am teaching, I decided on making vinegar cheese (the simplest kind of cheesemaking - it's done in an hour and is sort of like magic) and then using it to make quesadillas with homemade salsa. It's a meal that a six year old can safely make (using storebought cheese) and which is actually pretty healthy. I've seen that my own children get a sense of pride and accomplishment from making their own peanut butter sandwiches for their school lunches. How much more from learning how to sew a patch on their favorite jeans? Or knit themselves a scarf? Or plant a kitchen garden?

It has been my observation that, compared to some other cultures (ahem), many Americans have lost a great number of self sufficiency skills. Since I've moved out to the country, I have changed my opinion somewhat, but I am still fundamentally convinced that American kids are lacking in survival skills. We can't teach our children things we have never learned how to do ourselves, and our school system has long ago given up on teaching traditional arts. I think we had better get to work passing on the skills we have managed to preserve to to relearn.


AnyEdge said...

Hope's language skills have improved dramatically.

Maven said...

I wished I lived local (yet again!). I could benefit from one of those classes.