Jul. 18, 2012




        I often like to consider "old folks" sayings to see why they were popular and if they have any relevance to today.  Amazingly, I continually find that there is a solid purpose behind these sayings and most of them have some basic truths that can aid us today. In the 70's the favorite saying was, "If they are over 30 they are wrong."  The idea was that the flower generation was abandoning the old and introducing the new ideas that would make the world better.  Even then I used to ask my friends, many of them with flowers in their hair etc., if we weren't throwing out the baby with the bath water. Oh! that's one of those sayings.


        My father and I were talking when I was about 15 and I commented on the fact that one of my friends great grandparents was so well off and influential and I couldn't understand why his parents weren't. You have to understand that my father was from an old farm family in the Northeast. Even though he was a successful businessman he often came out with a Nor east Yankee observation. Dad said to me," Unfortunately, unless we are very careful it is natural for families to go from "Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves" in three generations.


        Because I didn't understand, I had to ask Dad to explain.  He said that often the head of a family will work hard and through that hard work and perseverance will become successful.  Wanting the family to remain well off the father would drive the children to be successful.  Eventually, with hard work and the fathers support and their inheritance the children reach a semblance of success.  These children then vow to make their children's life easier than theirs had been.  They don't make them do the chores and face the daily hard work the father had had to suffer through.  It resulted in a generation that lacked the work ethic needed to develop the needed capital assets and family structure to ensure long range wealth.  As a result the next generation was returned to the original status of having to "make it on their own" if they wanted to be well off.


        Now, is this always true, No.  However, it does have a reoccurring thread that is well to consider.  Example: When you look at items like, Memorizing your times tables, Taking notes, Reading aloud in class, Doing algebra, etc.  Do you as a parent or teacher try too hard to protect your children from the very things that made your education so effective.  Perhaps this is part of our education degradation. (Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations)


        Another saying that my mother used often, my father did also but not as often was, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."  It never made sense to me and I always figured it was just "an old persons thing".  I knew that it referred to something derogatory about the person but other than that never really understood it until I was in the Military and home on leave and confronted my father asking what it meant.  Dad sat down and explained that in the "old days" like when Lords and Ladies ruled England people needed a "change purse" they had different ways to get one.   The peerage would have a "silk purse" sewn by a local tailor while the commoners would take one of the ears during the slaughter of a hog and sew together the sides and put a piece of rawhide in as a drawstring.   This served the needs for both classes as the peerage would carry less cash, often in gold and silver of higher value, while the commoners would have the less valuable and heavier coins because of the number carried.  In addition, the working class would be toiling and the purse needed to be strong enough to withstand the daily jostling and rough treatment.


        The reason my parents kept using this saying is the same reason I used to tell my students, "you can't save every wounded puppy".  As we grow up we begin to try to make life perfect. Often we try to help others to change their habits and life style so they will be more accepted or successful.  What we forget is that we developed our lifestyle through years of guidance from our parents, family, and neighborhood.  the "wounded puppy" has had the wrong (in our opinion) development stimulus. I can't tell you the number of times I have heard a young (and not so often so young) person say, "They are really a nice person and if you would just see that you would love them." or "They'll change for me. 


        My parents were merely trying to get me to consider the amount of effort that change would take on both the individuals life (if they were even willing) and the amount of effort it would take from my life.  We make this mistake in education when we accept the paradigm that there should be "no child left behind".  This saying leads directly to misguided effort. Some students are ( one of my sayings) "sucking good oxygen another student could use". Unfortunately, some students have developed habits and outlooks that will require far more effort than benefits returned.  We tend to glory in the "children we save" and often don't consider the tens or hundreds that were deprived of our extra effort as they strove to improve.


        I know, you now think that I am an ogre who hates kids and must be a horrible teacher.  No, I merely realize that when I QUIT high school the school was better off and the students benefited.  I had no intention of learning and was a millstone around the neck (another old saying) of the entire student body. Unfortunately, we have tried so hard to retain students, either for their benefit, to build our egos, or to gain federal funding that we have lost sight of the forest for the trees. (oops, another of those sayings)


        I hope the next time you hear one of these old adages you will think carefully about why it has endured generation after generation.