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Caine’s Arcade and the Beauty of Creativity

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As a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I often get into arguments with other graduate students over the necessity and effectiveness of compulsory, coercive education. Not surprisingly, most of the people who choose to get a Master of Education degree believe that in order for children to learn and reach their full potential, adults need to define for them what they will learn and in what manner, especially if those with education degrees get to be the ones making the decisions.

I am currently working on a concept for a teacherless school. Yes, no teachers, something that doesn’t go over well with a bunch of people who want to celebrate the wonderful profession of teaching. While I have absolutely no reason to argue that teachers can’t do great things for children, the reality is that in most contexts, teachers can’t do much to stop the abuse of children in traditional schools; often times they create more harm than good.

What should education be? Should it even consist of four walls, a bunch of desks and a teacher pushing some curriculum at the kids? The problem with traditional education is that a lot of eager children have their optimism and love of learning crushed when they come to school and are told to sit down and shut up. How do we expect children to be eager to learn when we yell at them for not learning what we want them to on our timeline, as opposed to what they want to learn on their timelines? How do we expect children to continue to be lifelong learners (because they come into the schools as learners), when we tell them to pay attention to the teacher so they can learn inside of a box for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year for 13 years? On top of that, self-esteem, creativity and compassion are also often lost in traditional schools.

Unfortunately, the idea of non-coercive education, unschooling at the extreme, and Sudbury schools at the not so extreme, is incomprehensible to most. Most believe that children cannot and will not learn how to read, write or do arithmetic without a heavy hand from teachers who will guide them forward. However, I posit that so long as parents and other caring members of a community place heavy social emphasis on the acquisition of these skills, that a non-coercive educational environment will allow the children to accomplish at least as much as they would in a traditional schooling environment, with the added benefits of the children not losing their love of learning, their self-esteem, their creativity or their compassion.

Yesterday I stumbled upon the story of Caine’s Arcade, a film that came out about a year and a half ago. Caine is a precious 9-year-old boy who had built an arcade comprised of cardboard games in his dad’s used auto parts store in East Los Angeles, over his summer vacation. The complexity of the games that he created, and his amazing optimism waiting for customers to come to his arcade is touching.

The short video which is linked above is a feel-good clip, but I worry about what comes next for Caine. Unfortunately, Caine goes to school, and schools aren’t typically a safe place for children who stretch themselves and act outside of the docile norm. One of the saddest parts of the short clip begins at 4:13, where Caine’s father explains how his son doesn’t wear his customized shirt to school for fear of bullying. Additionally, at school this type of creativity and self-direction is not permitted. At school, when it is time to work on multiplication, there is no option for a child who wants to read a book. And when it is time to listen to a story about the American Revolution, there is no option for a child who wants to figure out how a battery works. Imagine how much someone like Caine could accomplish in the future if he was given a free license to pursue all of his interests in the manner he did with his cardboard arcade.

* Fortunately the wonderful filmmaker who shared this story with the world, Nirvan Mullick, decided to also raise a scholarship fund for Caine, so at least Caine can see a path forward. Mullick and others then created a movement, through the Imagination Foundation, to encourage similar innovation and creativity in other children. Share this story with your friends.

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3 Responses to " Caine’s Arcade and the Beauty of Creativity "

  1. Mike says:

    Thank you Antonio for your ongoing efforts to advocate for homeschooling and non-traditional education. I’ve gone through a similar evolution since 2007 as you and have come to understand the interconnected challenges of liberty, education, police corruption, statism, etc. It is my hope that through the efforts of each of us that are learning and teaching others that we’ll get our country back on track.

    I have 3 sons that have attended public school and 2 stepsons that have been homeschooled. My 2 stepsons have a much more reality based view of the world, compared to my other 3 sons. My stepsons are far more motivated, relate to people in a more healthy way, and see others, not just themselves.

    Watching the above video shows that builder’s spirit. Our public schools tend to crush that spirit. For example, I gave each of my teenaged sons a hammer to pull some nails. This very hands on activity was completely foreign to them. I’m struck by the stark contrast of their feeble helplessness and what I see on TV shows where rednecks are able to improvise to solve difficult challenges.

    For example, you might see a redneck having trouble starting a broken down car. He thinks to poor some moonshine into the carb to help get it started. That isn’t just some guess that he made. He knows that the engine requires fire/heat/explosive power to start. He also knows that moonshine is highly flammable, increasing the chance of getting ignition. This isn’t some dumb hick luck, but rather based on hands on experience and a practical understanding of the mechanics of an internal combustion engine.

    Farmers and rednecks in our society are often looked down upon. Some of the smartest people I know come from very humble roots on a farm, from the backwoods, or a swamp. My wife’s grandfather grew up on a farm and only graduated 3rd grade. He was a key member of NASA’s Apollo program, helping to design the escape hatch after Apollo 1 caught fire. My family comes from farming roots, yet many of us are in the top of our professions.

    Bringing that concept of practical experience and hands on learning back to public schools, it is my opinion that our public schools disconnect the students from the real physical world and instead immerse them in an alternate universe of abstract theory for years. Take the typical high school student and put them out on a construction job site and ask them to build a square corner. They usually don’t know where to start, in spite of the fact that they have done YEARS of math that includes all of the theory behind right triangles that they would need to build that square corner with pieces of wood and a tape measure. They have worked in abstraction for so long they can’t make the mental leap to the physical problem in front of them.

    The public schools try to drive students towards higher education as the ONLY option, resulting in even more years of abstract thinking disconnected from the physical world. I think that Mike Rowe’s efforts to get students and young adults to embrace the trades is good counter to that message if we can get it out there more. Hopefully more parents will also embrace homeschooling. Legislative efforts are underway to try to suppress homeschoolers so we need keep speaking up. Just know that your voice is being heard by new people every day. I just stumbled across you for the first time today. :)

    Take care,
    Mike

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      Well said!! I agree with you! I hope you’re talking to other parents so that they can see the value in allowing children to see the value in their own educations.

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