School was out Monday. It was the start of the week-long fall break for Manteca Unified.
But that didn’t mean kids weren’t learning.
I realized that when I stepped out front during the noon hour and heard a high-pitched utterance of “en garde!”
Across the street were two boys of perhaps 10 and 12 engaged in a Medieval duel. Their implements were slender milled sticks similar to garden support stakes. Their shields were old storm screens. Their duel banter was accented by chirping birds and the rumble of a trucker applying his Jake brakes in the distance on the 120 Bypass.
They pranced, danced, bobbed and weaved on their grassy battleground while their steeds — a skateboard and scooter — awaited the end of the skirmish on the sidewalk.
The confrontation punctured with the joyous laughter of boys being boys continued for perhaps five minutes.
It was stopped when the elder knight suddenly half shouted out, “Hey, I’ve got an idea, follow me.” That prompted both to drop their swords and shields and scurry around to the backyard in search of another adventure.
They probably thought they were having fun, which they were. But they were also learning.
It is an unfortunate development in an age where the world comes to you at the touch of the screen of a small tablet that too many of us think that idle time for a kid is a bad thing.
Instead we cram every sort of organized activity we can think of into their free hours — Little League, youth soccer, youth football, basketball camps, music lessons, and more. And that is on top of being in a structured environment in school for six or so hours a day.
Whether by design or chance, TV and social media has become not simply a babysitter of sorts but a replacement for imagination.
Such a structured approach to childhood may build discipline and drive but does it really allow one to grow to full potential?
Imagination— or vision if you prefer — has been the hallmark of those making great advances whether it was the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Jonas Salk, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.
School is structured as it should be. But kids also need something that engages their minds to wander. We all do.
If you have ever seen a movie made from a favorite book — those quaint paper-based throwbacks to the 20th century — you were probably disappointed. It’s because you already had used your imagination to bring those words to life. While on the screen you see the end result of someone else’s imagination doing the same thing, it isn’t exactly what you envisioned. Sometimes it is better than what you imagined as offered by such classics as “Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind.” But most of the time it isn’t.
However if you see a movie of a classic book on the screen first and then read it, you will discover that the words somehow translate into almost exactly what you saw on the big screen. Essentially your imagination had been pre-empted in exchange for a $12 movie ticket and a $7 soda.
There was a time when one generation dismissed forays into the imagination as being a Walter Mitty moment courtesy of author James Thurber. For another it was George Plimpton’s fantasies of being a pro athlete played out in real time. And for those who read the words “George Plimpton”, “James Thurber”, and “Walter Mitty” as being unrecognizable and therefore as archaic as Fortran it would be no different than dismissing the imaginative musings of folks in Washington, D.C., who say they understand our collective pain.
Those who stray from the obvious as well as the tried and true path are viewed as daydreamers at best and losers at worst.
But without imagination man would still be scurrying around the earth— assuming that we weren’t wiped out as a species somewhere along the line by not being able to adapt — trying to find food to eat while also trying to avoid being eaten.
Etchings on cave walls, the wheel, and such were born not out of necessity but because ancient man had a moment or two to let their imagination run wild instead of just worrying about surviving 24/7.
Our obsession with the idle mind being the devil’s playground has made it a crime of sorts for boys to be boys and girls to be girls.
Yes, sometimes that idle time leads to someone thinking they can jump out of a hay loft with an umbrella and be just like Mary Poppins or the pre-teen boys next door playing a game of “horse” with the basketball standard on the ground and the shooters atop the roof. But idle time also unlocks and encourages creative thinking.
The world already knows one plus one equals two.
What we don’t know is what the minds of a 10-year-old today can bring to the table tomorrow.
And unless we encourage them to succeed which also includes using their imagination to its fullest we will never know.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or (209) 249-3519.