A Children’s Guide to Dismantling Our Economy

No matter what some disappointed retailers said about last year’s sales, the holidays are a bonanza for the toy industry.  The season provides millions of children with an intensive experience in conspicuous consumption.  And the economists argue that our holiday buying still is a great boost to our Gross Domestic Product.

It’s a win-win season for toy makers, youthful consumers and celebratory consumerism.  We look with dismay at the possibility that this productive cycle might be broken.  And yet, in one neighborhood, a century ago, that gloomy prospect actually occurred.

The neighborhood was a rural community in northwest Salk County, Wisconsin.  The time was the 1890’s.  The site was a small one-room school.

In her latter years, a woman who had attended the school as a child remembered those momentous days when she and her classmates broke the holiday cycle.  She wrote,

“At school, girls and boys played together at baseball, town ball, draw base, pump-pump-pull-a-way, fox and geese, and ante-over.  There was no end of fun, and one reason for this was that the boys and girls had to make their playthings.  That, in itself, was great fun.  Never a bat or ball, sled or wagon, wheelbarrow or cart, a snowshoe, vaulting pole, bow and arrow or springboard, but they first had to design and make it.”*

What a disaster these children would be in our time!  Fortunately, we have progressed so that children are perfected consumers of education and play.  And in the neighborhood, adults with skills which could help children create their own world of play sit at home waiting for the invitation to be useful, co-creators of a productive life.

Thank heavens no one offers the invitation.  It would cripple the economy.  And even worse, it could create productive children who know now what children knew then in a one room school house — fun isn’t something you buy.  You create it with other kids in the neighborhood.

~ John ~


* The quote is from “Good Old Golden Rule Days: A history of one room schools in Sauk County, Wisconsin.” The school was called Friendswood. The quote by Linda Cormack.

Home page image: Su Bee Buzz!

About the Lead Author

John McKnight
John McKnight
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

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