From Here & Back Again

By Jim Coufal

(Cazenovia, NY – Sept. 2012) I recently went to Hamilton to meet Roger Hoffman. Roger is columnist Chris Hoffman’s father,  and we had corresponded via e-mail about my column on many occasions. We have and hold much in common and it seemed right to know each other in person.

My first impression on entering the Hoffman home was the welcome in the voices of Roger and his lovely wife Jeannette. It’s the kind of feeling you miss in e-mail. The second thing I noticed was the beautiful wood chests, tables, grandfather clocks, breakfronts and other furniture. Walnut, cherry, tiger maple, so marvelous in color and grain. Roger makes them all, a talented man.

After accepting a fresh homemade doughnut (also made by Roger) and coffee, we sat together in a beautiful room to get acquainted. First we talked about careers. In one of those fun coincidences, I learned that Roger’s undergraduate degree is in forestry and wildlife; mine is in forestry. We both had long, but not exclusive, careers as college professors.

Jeannette has biology degrees and worked many years for the National Institute of Health as well as the National Science foundation.

About this time, Chris Hoffman arrived with fresh farm produce and joined in the conversation. A few moments later, her sister Pat and friend Kathy arrived and became part of our small group.

And no doubt, it is a liberal group.

All the above is to set the scene for what we talked about. A great deal of it centered about education and the social changes that have influenced it. There was agreement that with so many families having both mom and dad go off to work daily is a critical factor in impacting how and how much children learn.

Both parents are tired in the evening and spend less “quality time” with their kids. And kids coming home to an empty house in an unsupervised setting opens many corners to cut: kids is kids the world over.

We agreed that kids are not allowed to be kids in many situations. There’s Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, T-ball and Pee Wee leagues, soccer leagues and basketball leagues. And they must have all the proper equipment, on field or court, umpires or referees, and the pressure to win, with parents often living vicariously through their kids.

The kids don’t learn any responsibility for organizing themselves, for dealing with problems or for just plain making-do. It’s part of the materialization of society.

We’d all been in situations where it was embarrassing to see – and even to be – part of the riches of gifts kids receive at birthdays and holidays. They get things that are quickly set aside, rarely used and broken.

And if they don’t get what they want, woe to the misguided parent or gift-giver. “Things” become an entitlement.

We observed that parents today are often quick to defend their kids and come down on teachers or coaches or other such figures. It’s the old, “My child wouldn’t do that” syndrome. Just ask little Johnny or Mollie and they’ll tell you they didn’t.

With the citification of our society, we note how studies have found current children often are divorced from their real source of survival, nature, whether it is cultivated nature as in agriculture or wild nature as in forests and rivers and mountains.

Things from nature are “icky,” and interest in science is diminished; they don’t know the names of birds or slugs or plants, where eggs come from or why wildfires are important beyond destroying human property.

Yet they still expect to be fed, clothed, kept warm and provided for … cheaply

We only briefly touched on the impacts of technology but did note how language is changing so rapidly with texting and how personal interaction is reduced by the use of texting, e-mail, ‘smart’ phones and all the other marvelous inventions of the last 25-plus years.

Talking heads in front of a classroom don’t meet students where they are in their learning capabilities, and while we acknowledge this, we don’t change our educational approach very much. It takes a degree of courage to do that, a courage that is often looked down on in a ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’ society.

And here’s a hint: Google “Khan Academy” and go to its website. It is a non-profit organization that provides free Internet learning modules on a wide variety of topics, modules that do meet the kids where they are. They have more than 3,300 such modules and, yes, they are free!

I was at the Hoffmans about two hours, and the time passed too quickly, as it always does with friends, new or old. A conversation is where facial expressions, other body language, polite coughs and significant voice modulation, among others, add so much to what is being discussed and to know another person.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends. He can be reached at

By martha

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