Cows and Opposable Thumbs

This is from a series of essays I wrote about five years ago. Though it is a bit dated, the ideas are still relevant.

I don’t know much about cows. They appear to be dumb animals and are bred for food. They graze and wander the field aimlessly and sometimes one will do something completely unlike a bovine.

My grandson told me he saw one make a break for freedom once. It jumped the back fence, saw what it had done, got scared and jumped back over.

A few days ago I saw one running across the field shaking its head back and forth and huffing. In front of it, a large house cat ran away from the beast.

The cows belong to a farmer who lives across the field from us. I saw him working with the cows one day, sweating and pushing, huffing and puffing. Attempting to right one that had fallen. No matter how much he pushed, the animal wouldn’t budge.

He walked away for a few minutes, looked back over his shoulder at the hulk laying on the ground. Walked a few more paces and then went at it again. I saw his lips move and I guessed that he was trying to encourage the beast to move, but then he gave one last push, let it fall back and again turned away.

Later, I saw that he and his sons brought out the tractor and I didn’t want to know what was happening. I don’t want to think about it, because it’s easier not to think about these things.

As much as I dislike thinking about it, I think we Americans are like the cows. We graze and wander aimlessly and eventually we too will fall.

If we took the time to look around we would see how stupid our nation has become. Sound bites and clips are how we get our daily updates with little or no insight of what is happening in the world around us. We are satisfied with this. It’s easier.

My grandson’s third grade teacher told him that ‘opposable’ is not a word. He told me that the teacher said there was no such word even after he reminded her of the opposable thumb.

During the parent-teacher conference she told his mother that he was disrespectful for questioning her authority and knowledge and he was given a stern warning to be more respectful.

The opposable thumb incident is typical of American behavior. A teacher teaches, therefore she cannot be taught. Especially by a bright child who questions.

When the teacher cannot be taught or passes her ignorance of the world on to future generations with no consideration there is something wrong with the system.

I live in Northwest Arkansas. This year Education Week gave the public education system in Arkansas a ‘B-‘ despite lower than average test scores. The grade came not from performance, but from policy–the state is demanding higher academic standards.

There is such a word as opposable.

Performance matters. Policies can sit. Teacher quality initiatives may look good on paper, but try explaining that to a nine-year-old whose teacher doesn’t know what an opposable thumb is. Then tell him that things will get better because the policies say so.

The Democrat-Gazette reported the good news. Arkansas students received an average D in performance in grades K-12, but rated as eighth in the nation’s schools.

Tell me this doesn’t sound like something a cow would do. Cows are large, dumb animals. They graze and wander aimlessly. And on occasion they do something completely unlike a cow. But not this time.


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