Some people argue that since Japanese schoolchildren seem smarter, or at least better educated, than Americans, we should lengthen the school year.
But if so many kids cannot tell Copenhagen from Cape Town or calcium from carbon after 10 years in school, why should they suddenly learn in an extra month? Some American youngsters are brilliant, even though taught in the same schools with the rest.
Longer school years would keep the young tied up longer, and maybe parents think that would be great, but whether they would learn more is doubtful.
And on the negative side, shortening summer vacations would mean less time to undo any bad effects of school. Less time to discover something that finally interests those who do poorly in classrooms.
Trash television, which is often fascinating, commonly airs the complaint that parents, teachers, churches and institutions of authority in general have quite ruined Betty's or Tom's or David's life.
People sit there and swear their lives are a mess, and they know whom to blame.
If it happens on rare occasions that the speaker has had flawless parents, schools, churches (in other words, the kid cannot spot flaws), the complaint is more general. Instead of family or school, the injured one points out the imperfections of the city, the nation, the world.
Often on television you may hear kids ask how anything can be expected of them in a racist, sexist, warmongering, greedy, godless nation.
I watch spellbound. I doubt they care much what I or anybody else expects of them. The question is what they expect of themselves. Sometimes it's very little. Does anybody imagine longer schooling will change that?
Having composed their list of horrors and villains, more or less accurately, they have completed their task, perhaps, and need do no more. God knows, I have a grand list myself, and while you will insist I give it to you complete, I decline. In brief, the reason I am a slob today is that when I was 5, a kid age 11 smashed my collection of burned-out Christmas tree lights, and the same year my terrier Ted was run over at a viaduct and I had to scoop him up. I have spent subsequent years explaining that I don't have to do anything, considering what I have suffered in this evil world.
Still, rehearsing the same old evils of this world can become boring after a few years, and one longs for something beyond, something beyond one's grunts and fardels, something that challenges, amuses, delights. Something that brings back again that sense of wonder felt at the age of 3.
Does that mean injustice should be ignored while we lose ourselves in contemplation of fossils of the Jurassic? God forbid.
But not much is gained at the personal level by cataloguing everything that's wrong, while pouting (or even snarling) in one's tent. The hero Achilles did, while the battle went on without him, but at the last he roused and took care of Hector.
A human has some power over his own life. The thing that saves so many kids is that while they feel they should be outraged and depressed, cheerfulness keeps breaking in to challenge their lust for misery and squalor. And they wake up and go ahead.
The world is amazing. The life of fleas is astonishing. The drift of continents is startling. A whole life is not long enough to get to the bottom of the nearest dragonfly, which, by the way, is the favorite food of those damned purple martins everybody likes.
But then the natural world is not designed to suit anybody; it's there to be amazed at.
If you ask me how a young woman can be happy, if in the first bloom of youth she's in a car accident and is for the next 60 years dependent on others to lift, feed and wash her, I cannot say. It is terrible. How is she supposed to deal with her desires for sex? How is she supposed to deal with anything at all?
To me it seems a miracle, almost a perverse one, that even in those hideous circumstances some find life worth living. If they appear on television they don't recite their lists.
Some of the young who do complain loudest of the awful world will take comfort that soon enough they will be rid of it for a very long time. It is dumb, in the meantime, to find nothing wonderful about it.
The worst misfortune a human can have is to think his own situation is the most interesting topic available to him. But that happens if his inborn playfulness and curiosity is slammed down when he is too young to know what's happening to him, and if he never gets angry enough to break down his prison.
I knew a woman who chewed her little boy out for his fascination with goldfish and frogs in a nearby pool. Worked fine. The kid never again exulted in that excitement. No more tadpoles forever. How likely is he to inquire how rocks are made, or what makes vines climb, or how you get iron out of hematite, or, for that matter, where mothballs come from (a huge puzzle of my own childhood, fortunately solved, though with no particular help from parents, school or church, all of whom did nothing but sit on their butts while I was in grave anxiety).
As I view my own misspent life and consider how badly the world and everybody in it has treated me, I find there is some pleasure in saying so.
I intend to try to get on Geraldo's show, or Oprah's or Sally's. I am by God going to tell the world of that day when Russell, a born bully, swiped my chocolate milk just before nap time and Miss Falkenthorpe failed to drown him on the spot.