Thursday, 11 February 2016

Learning from the young, or at any rate the younger than us!!

Concern is being expressed about children nowadays not being out and about enough in the natural world. According to a two-year study funded by the government 10% of children in the UK have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year. Cue apocryphal stories of the urban child who is asked where milk comes from and answers, "The supermarket". Cue also all the harrumphing about children nowadays spending too much time on electronic entertainment gadgets. 

Well, there's at least one youngster who manages to combine technological know-how with an interest in wildlife. He is 13-year-old wildlife blogger (here's a link ) and has said that schools and parents are partly to blame. Too many parents, according to this young man, stop taking their children into the natural world when they go to secondary school and the schools let their students down because they don't make the environment a core subject. "Once children hit high school they become more independent and might think being interested in the natural world is uncool,” he said. “If they can, parents need to keep their connection with their children and continue to take them outdoors." 

I am sure he is an exemplary young man but he is not, of course, the parent of recalcitrant teenagers and so does not know how hard it can be to "take them outdoors" if they don't want to go. You have to start when they are a lot younger and encourage them with your own enthusiasm for being out and about. 

As for schools, well, things have just got harder, with everything tied up in the red tape of national curriculum and ticking boxes. One of the things I remember with delight about primary school is being taken out for "nature walks". If it was a fine day our teacher would decide it was time for the whole class to go out for a walk to some local beauty spot, pointing out trees and plants, making us collect leaves and flowers and other such stuff to make some kind of display later. Nowadays, teachers would have to plan it weeks in advance, write it into their yearly plan, complete a specific planning form which explains the educational objectives of the outing and slotting it into the demands national curriculum, and then do a risk assessment, of course. This last requirement would probably lead to them not being allowed to walk the children in pairs through the streets but demand the ordering of a bus to transport the children safely to wherever they might then encounter nature in its raw state. It makes me tired just thinking about it! 

In secondary school, we did not do such things as nature walks but occasionally some of our teachers would decide, often after much badgering on the part of the class, to conduct the lesson outside, sitting on the grass. We were fortunate enough to have large playing fields surrounding our girls' high school and I can only assume that it did not rain as much then as it does now. Once again, of course, the strictures of modem educational practice come into play to prevent such arrant nonsense. Lessons all must have a lesson plan, usually demanding evidence of use of IT (pupils researching stuff on the internet, teacher using the interactive whiteboard - you know the kind of thing), group or pair work and a pile of other necessary modern methods. 

Still, it's nice to see a young man advising the older generation on how to do things. 

There was an article in the New Statesman the other day that suggests that we should look to the young for examples in other areas of our lives as well. "Over a quarter of those aged 16-24 today are teetotal; just 29 per cent drink heavily in an average week, compared with 44 per cent a decade ago. Only 23 per cent of under-25s smoke, a 10 per cent decrease since 2001. Conception rates among under-18s are at their lowest since records began in 1969, and the number of sexually transmitted infections among those under-25 has also declined in the last five years. Today’s youth haven’t been resorting to narcotics, either: drug use among under-25s has fallen by over a quarter in the last decade." 

Time to get rid of the stereotype of the irresponsible young person, it seems. Presumably all the drunks who were falling down in the streets of Manchester on New Year' Eve, having photos taken that were compared to works of art, were all over 25 then. 

One factor nowadays is money; if you don't have a well-paid job, indeed any job at all, you can't afford to go out and get drunk and buy drugs. Another is social media. If you do go out and get drunk, you shouldn't tweet about it or post pictures on Facebook. Apparently about half of recruiters in the UK look at candidates' media profile and a third of recruiters have rejected candidates after finding evidence of binge drinking or drug use online. It's a hard life! 

Jean Twenge, writer of a book called "Generation me" explains it like this. "In past decades, teens might have smoked, drunk and had sex because they didn’t have much else to do. Now, teens have a world of entertainment and digital communication available on their phones 24/7.” I would like to take issue with that. In the pre-computer entertainment age, not all of us resorted to smoking and drinking and promiscuous sex put of boredom. There was a lot of music, places to go and dance, cinemas, bowling alleys and even odd places called youth clubs that were not just for pre-teens as they seem to be now. And quite a lot of us read books as well. 

According to the New Statesman article those of us who grew up in that less technological age, especially the over-65s, are apparently the ones more likely than any other group to drink alcohol at least five days a week. Of course, the fact that fewer of us have to get up to go to work the next day might have something to do with it. And the reports don't suggest that these irresponsible over-65s are getting roaring drunk five days a week. 

Mostly we grew up at a time when you have to learn about moderation in all things!

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