it's just common sense

The musings of an over qualified white male on matters of media, music, science, politics, etc, that are patently obvious.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Raft Guide Sociology

At 51 years of age, I have had 2, maybe 3, maybe 4 careers so far. This depends on exactly how one wishes to define the word "career". At any rate, it was my 12 years of experience as a raft guide, which brought me into constant daily contact with as many as 350 lumbering Americans on vacation, that ultimately gave me what I hope is the unifying theme for this weblog: The notion that nearly everything we need to know, and skills of thinking were given to us by the 8th grade. This is followed by the sad observation of the raft guide: That very few Americans bother to call this information to mind.

A raft guide is thrust, during the course of the job into extended, intimate contact with anywhere from 6 to 24 tourists each and everyday, on a very random basis. It would not be inaccurate to say that the sociologically inclined guide gets an up close and personal view of America, fingers on the very pulse of the nation, from something close to a statistically valid sample of the populace. It is a view that puts us in touch with the very fabric of the country, mingling with the national consciousness, its values, opinions, preferences, desires, its very guts and zeitgeist.

It was during the course of my years as a guide, as a result of interaction with the customers in my boat, that I developed the thesis noted above. It is the idea that almost everything that one needs to know was learned by the 8th grade. I refer of course, not just to the mere facts of subject matter, but as well to the notion that retaining and using the knowledge and skills of elementary school, gives us the ability to answer, analyze, and to perceive nearly every situation in the human experience. If we would only do something so simple as to ask ourselves, what is it that I already know about this?, we could certainly save ourselves from our own stupid questions, observations, and opinions. Save us that is, if we are only willing to use that which was given to us and honed, by the time we were all 14 years of age. This of course is what Mother Mary Trinity meant when she said "Check your work!".

The overwhelming national malady, as any raft guide will tell you, is that we are a nation of mental cobwebs, a people who have become mentally lazy, despite, the much heralded "information age". The national disease is seen daily in a population that will not call upon the information, and capacity to reason that was required of us to graduate from 8th grade. It occurs on 2 levels, a failure to call upon the very facts of addition, subtraction, geography, and so forth, and secondly, to the failure to use those facts and our own common sense to just figure it out for ourselves. Most Americans do not "check their work", before opening their mouths.

How else is the poor raft guide to explain to him or herself, the numerous adults in a season who truly want to know, "Does this river finish in the same place that it started?". How else to explain that 5 of 6 Americans are unable to locate Canada on a globe? The numerous people who ask, when they are 500 miles from the nearest ocean, and 2500 feet above sea level, "Is this water fresh or salt?". And what about a president who states with all seriousness, "The reason I keep inisting that there is a connection bewteen Iraq and Al Queida is because there is one." Anyone of these miscues is reason to repeat the 8th grade, and I could offer thousands of more examples in my experience that occur with sad, startling frequency, about the lack of mental processes, about the absence of using what we already know.

It is often said, trite but true, that learning is a life long process. At least one dominant and valid observation on learning says that new information will be retained and more meaningful when it is attached and connected to as many related pre-existing categories and concepts as possible. I believe it is time to get our cognitive wheels going and to more often check out or pre-existing mental categories before opening our mouths.

It has also been said that the best learning is that which is done by ourselves and for ourselves. I would therefore plead, that America shake the mental cobwebs away, look at our world, call up those facts and skills that were there in 8th grade, and start mentally manipulating the world on our own behalf, using that which we know already, as well as our common sense. Let's start checking our work. Let's not be too lazy to step back and take a look at what it is that we may already know about something. And let us do this before we ask for the information to be handed to us on a silver platter, thus exposing our lack of thought. The mind is a muscle, it needs exercise. Let's use our common sense.


  • At November 16, 2008 at 11:23 PM, Anonymous Roxanne said…

    I love it!! I was just searching random things about being a raft guide and your blog popped up! I very much enjoyed reading your common sense that isn't so common anymore


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