Education and the Chair Repair Man

In the market, on Saturdays and other special days, he sits and mends broken chairs. Not just any chairs, but those made with wicker or weaved rope. The immediate reaction is “how does he stay in business?”. I mean, do people really get their chairs repaired?

As I stood there, a middle aged couple brought their wooden chair up, a gaping hole in the weave where someone had clearly put their foot through it – probably a grandchild – and handed it over. They chatted for a bit and he pointed at the areas that would need to be worked on in order to restore it. Then, the couple bid him a good day and they wandered into the market, stopping for a moment to greet an older couple pushing a trolley full of paper bags of fruit.

This little scene, which probably lasted only a few minutes, had such a profound effect on me that I felt it in my chest. I felt like I had been learning as I watched, and the learning was of a melancholy nature. I felt I had witnessed several aspects of humanity that were on the decline, that were losing their place in society because of their inability to compete with other aspects of humanity that are most cost-effective.

The man who repairs things seems to be a thing of the past in most societies. It is now too easy to simply go and get a new object for less than you would pay for the old object to be fixed. As a result, we discard things freely and attach little or no value to things which less than a generation ago would have been prized possessions. I don’t know the provenance of that chair, but one could imagine that couple’s parents may well have sat on it eating their breakfast when they were in their 20s. By getting it repaired, their great-grandchildren may well do the same. That has to be the right way, don’t you think?

A side-effect of all of this for education is that working with your hands is also becoming a thing of the past. My three-year old son was transfixed watching the Chair Repair Man work the wood and twine and wicker in his strong, nimble hands. I could see that my son wanted to have a go, to touch the materials and see if he could make them do the same things. But, sadly, the schools I work in will educate this tendency out of him. Sure… he’ll be allowed to build with blocks and other stuff in Early Years. But, sooner or later, all that will be dismissed and he will end up like the rest of them sitting in rows staring at screens.

He may also never know what it feels like to walk up to someone and chat about their trade, learn about how they will do something for you and then negotiate a price – to make human interactions a valued part of daily life. He will probably interact purely through a device, if that involves anything that can actually be called an “interaction”.

And, as we become more and more convinced that staring at a device having surface-level conversation with groups of people who like everything we say is “socializing”, I would say his chances of bumping into someone he has known for many years and stopping for a regular conversation are pretty negligible. Which is sad, not old-fashioned. Just plain, simple sad. Don’t you think?

So, I’m starting to sound like some anti-technological, retro-Dinosaur type aren’t I? But I wrote this on a laptop, I will upload it to a website and I will share it with my PLN using Twitter. I know how to use the stuff… I just don’t want it to use me, or for it to replace what is real and right, or for it to rob my children of what it feels like to work with their hands and hang out with people face-to-face.

It is down to our generation to fight for a few things, to embrace the new while preserving the old. Being progressive has never been a synonym for being submissive. Personally, I think it is education’s duty not to be submissive.


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