A new scourge is sweeping the land. Kids have grown isolated from family members and no longer play outside. Chores go undone. Homework waits. Books go unread. Teachers note distracted students. My ninth-grade daughter's friends are all hooked and do nothing else. Wives ignore their husbands.
What is this new societal menace? You guessed it-knitting! For some inexplicable reason, all sorts of people have fallen in love with knitting. Everyone I mention this to admits noticing a whole lotta knitting going on. My daughter is a 24/7 scarf-making machine.
The roots of this wacky knitting craze may be found in the post 9/11 cocooning trend or just in the human desire to create. (Martha Stewart was unavailable for comment.) If we're not careful, macram? may break out in the streets.
My daughter's English teacher told her that she may no longer knit in class. The kid cannot understand why knitting in class is a problem. She does all of her homework, participates in class discussions and is earning good grades. Besides, "the class is boring." This could be the real problem.
While the societal costs of knitting addiction might be low, substitute "technology" for "knitting" and much of the hysteria about kids and computers begins to look pretty silly.
Critics of school computer-use attempt to frighten the community with cautionary speculation about how kids will become antisocial, withdrawn, obese or, more importantly, unable to perform long division. These scare tactics are often based on misplaced nostalgia, simplistic thinking, technological ignorance or fear of progress. Conventional wisdom suggests that television and video games must be responsible for low literacy levels and short attention spans. The prophylactic effect of school reading methods and inauthentic curricula are rarely considered.
The alarmists would like you to believe that crayons and mud pies are developmentally appropriate; KidPix is not. Little boys are encouraged to play with a Hot Wheels car as long as that car does not have a computer in the bottom measuring velocity. Authors like Jane Healey would like you to believe that three clicks of the mouse will reverse millions of years of brain evolution and retard the development of a generation.
The curious epidemic of knitting raises more serious questions. If schools are to fulfill their role in developing creativity, then knitting might earn a place in the classroom. If schools are to respect, sustain and nurture culture, more fine and performing arts opportunities should be available to students. If kids are to become competent, productive citizens they should have numerous experiences making stuff. It is through the act of constructive projects that students learn to set goals, solve problems, develop talents and persevere.
Let's face it. Far too few American children have experienced the joy associated with building a birdhouse, soldering a circuit, cooking a meal or sewing a sock monkey. School may be the only place some kids may get the chance to do something substantive with their hands. The computer should be no less honored as constructive material than clay or cloth.
Bomb-throwers like to argue that since schools use computers in dopey ways, schools shouldn't use computers. Well, the symptom is right, but the diagnosis is wrong. Schools should advocate non-dopey ways to use computers.
Cybertopians like Don Tapscott breathlessly report about how much kids "know" about computers, but that knowledge seems limited to Web surfing and chatting with friends. Very few kids impress me with their computer fluency. Too few kids are making digital movies, building robots, controlling remote telescopes or programming simulations.
While the good liberal in me is concerned with the erosion of student speech rights, particularly when applied to school newspapers, I am much more horrified by kids with laser printers and Web servers in their bedrooms who are not publishing their own newspapers. Knitting at least shows some initiative.
Knit one, pearl two.
Gary Stager, email@example.com, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.