Friday, March 27, 2015
Dangerous Toys Beneficial For the Education of Youth
I want to bring to your attention a threat that is inherent in the emphasis on “safe toys for children” and in the related campaign against so-called violent computer games. I contend that not only do these games provide useful real and simulated experience of the world as it is, but other countries may be way ahead of us in educating their children with dangerous toys thus leading to a threatening and ever-widening "dangerous toys" gap.
What a child learns when they are young stays with them for the rest of their lives. Therefore it is up to us, as mature and experienced parents of these innocent biped mammals to see to it that their education contains the elements that they will need for a healthy and rewarding life, if you call this living.
What are these elements of a proper education? Well certainly there is learning to read and write, learning certain social skills such as not spitting in public, learning to keep themselves relatively clean and tidy, not to chew with their mouth open, that sort of thing. Some would include in this some pillars of a basic education such as the classics of western civilization (Homer, Isaac Newton, Bulwer-Lytton, Blavatsky) and the basics of managing hedge funds and real estate development. Perhaps not all classes of society really need the latter skills and education should be tailored for the different classes. For example, the rich may have to learn how to manage hedge funds but the poor how to avoid getting bitten by rats or how to find discarded but not completely decayed food to eat so that they do not starve to death, etc.
But all of us, rich or poor, can certainly benefit from knowing that the world is, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “a dangerous place”. It is a world filled with things that can drop on you and smash you flat, or people who will shoot you for a dollar, or people who think that they are entitled to distort the political system to get their way, or people who have beliefs that are dangerous to our beliefs. All of these things and more are true. So what benefit is it to educate our children to think that they do not exist? What is the point of waiting until they are adults, or nearly so, to let them in on the secret that they can easily kill themselves and others with that car or that gun? Or to keep from them the knowledge that there are rich and poor in America and that the poor have very little chance of having a decent life or receiving justice? Why keep from them the knowledge that as screwed up as this country is, they should have a look around with their own eyes and see how other countries are doing, some much better and many far worse. Or that people and nations and political groups lie every day both to the public and to themselves, often with tragic or disastrous results.
And that is what the campaign to eliminate dangerous and disturbing toys has set out to do. To hide these brutal facts from our young children out of the misguided notion that being sheltered helps them. Sure it may avoid a few hundred or thousand injuries or deaths, but at what cost? The cost is that our children do not have the first hand experience that they need to understand the world as it is.
Look at how far ahead of us the children of Afghanistan and Iraq are. In America, misguided parents are horrified that “war toys” are produced and sold. But in Afghanistan, pretty much every boy gets their hands on an AK-47 by the time they are 10 years old and they are not toys. In America, our children do not know what an ammo dump looks like, let alone how to behave around one. But every kid in Afghanistan does. And how many American's have a relative or neighbor who is an internationally wanted terrorist? Precious few, I think. By the time a boy turns 15 in Afghanistan, he has probably had many years experience smuggling opium over the border and killed at least one enemy of his tribe. This experience so early in life is priceless.
We shoot our selves in the foot, so to speak, to think that this pretense of a safe world that we construct for our children helps them or us. It just leads to shock and dismay when our privileged and self-entitled narcissist child has to face the real world. The shock may lead to total collapse and psychological disintegration. That is where this ill-considered policy leads.
But by no means does that mean that we have to start selling war toys to our children. There are other ways to get the ideas across that are more in the areas of industry and manufacturing than in warfare. My favorite is a toy my older brother had and which I loved. It was made in the very early 1960s by Mattel and it was called VAC-U-FORM.
VAC-U-FORM gave a child the ability to create vacuum molded plastic parts at will. It consisted of a very hot heating element, a vacuum pump, a contraption to press things together, sheets of thin plastic as material, and various molds to use as templates. Think of it as a 3D printer ahead of its time.
The smell of the melting plastic issuing obviously dangerous and probably cancer-causing chemicals was the joy of every teenage boy. One could easily damage oneself on the hot heating element, or on the melted plastic before it cooled. Or with exacto blades to chop out the manufactured parts. There were so many ways that a child could get themselves sent to the hospital with an irate and hysterical parent accompanying them.
Now that is the kind of toy that won the cold war. That is the kind of toy that bred tough and realistic Americans who were capable of manufacturing and surviving in this dangerous world. Its a toy that would send parents of today screaming in rage at the borderline-insane cavalier attitude of the toy designers towards safety or the lack thereof, not realizing that these toy designers were just trying to make America that much stronger.
I hope that America will come to its senses and return to these educational toys before it is too late. I could imagine a line of toy drones being used to find and disarm neighborhood land mines, for example. Or toy drones used to find insurgents hiding in the neighborhood during a play guerrilla attack. What fun that would be!
The future has so much promise if we just embrace it.
Here is a video from the 1960s showing the VAC-U-FORM at work
The Wikipedia page on the VAC-U-FORM