As a parent who is trying to support his children’s learning, I am always looking for places where they can see their interests in action and actively participate in them. Why stop at reading about beetles in books when you can catch your own beetles and see them for yourselves? Why be satisfied with watching an internet clip about bats when you can make a bat house and attract them to your own house? This kind of learning, learning that engages people with their world in active and tactile ways, is essential to everyone, in my opinion, but it is especially important for young children. In fact, the difficulties involved in incorporating this kind of learning into the classroom is one of the major reasons why I am avoiding the traditional school system altogether.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to get access to the places we would like to see. While there have been some people, like Piccioni Brothers Mushroom Farm, who have been very cooperative, most places are closed to the idea of having anyone, especially small children, come and see what they do, and even if they are willing to have us through, like Speed River Bicycle, insurance restrictions and labour laws often prevent them. The clear message is that having learners in the workplace is a hindrance, a distraction, an annoyance, and a legal liability. It would be easier for everyone concerned if they would just go back to their classrooms and leave well enough alone. The shops are closed.
Now, I do actually agree with this assessment. Having learners, especially young learners, under your feet while you are trying to accomplish something is very certainly a hindrance and a distraction and an annoyance and a legal liability. I agree that it would be easier, far easier, to send learners back to a classroom and let them learn what they can from their teachers. I even agree that there is almost nothing to be gained and very much to be lost by most workplaces in letting learners through their shops. I understand all this.
Even so, it always disappoints me when yet another workplace or university department or public works or volunteer organization tells me that its shop is closed to visitors in general and to children in particular. The benefits of an open shop seem to me so obvious, to the children certainly, but also to our society more broadly, that I can hardly believe one more person is giving up the opportunity to share a passion, a craft, a skill, or a knowledge with a young learner. It saddens me that we are a society more interested in efficiency and liability than in conviviality, that we are unable to recognize what we are modeling to our children when we shut them away in schools and daycares and after school programs and deny them access to the things going on in their world, that we fail to see how this only produces adults who are still children, unable to think and act for themselves, unable to do anything but follow their bosses and their politicians and their advertisers blindly.
I understand. It is much easier to keep a closed shop. But it comes at a cost.