Customs and Practices

In America, public schooling is the accepted route for educating one's children. What, and how, young people are taught at the impressionistic (as in birds) age of 4 or 5 or 6 is important to the shaping of that person as they mature and grow. While "pre-K" programs swell in popularity in the two income family, kindergarten is the primary basis for a child's education. In kindergarten teachers often try to institute a routine for the children. They come into school and learn some numbers, which will be critical for their futures in basic math and algebra and geometry. Then maybe they have naptime to rest their precious little heads and hearts. Afterwards maybe the teacher reads a short story so the children may learn to associate words with images and letters with words. If they are a group of the lucky few, these tykes will regularly have juice time. With two cookies, of course. As a final complement to the trinity of skills they will need to survive the rest of their formal education, the kindergarten teachers will work the younglings' diction and oral persuasion with the weekly treat that is show-and-tell.

When you are that young, there are few bad things in your life. You wake up, you eat, you play, you eat, you go back to sleep. A day in the life of a child is not overly complicating. But then, show-and-tell. This, my friend, is the early battleground for your entire social life and you are still too young to realize this. The thought you put in to choosing your item, the hunt for that perfect thing to show, it will exemplify your character. Are you the exploring child, wandering the deep, dark reaches of your back yard gathering potential talismans of tomorrow? or shall you be more daring still, to pick up a rock by the doorway to your institution of higher napping and play the role of yesteryear's Hemmingway and Faulkner and create a story around the item?

The item you pick is important. It leads to bragging rights. It leads to placement on the revered ladder of best show-and-tells ever.

It leads to destiny.

Children will bring in, as said, a variety of items to their show-and-tell. Some bring in rocks and pebbles, others will bring in dishes of baked goods that they made with their mothers; some will bring in pets, and others still will come forth brandishing toys. Generally, the teachers in a kindergarten setting will encourage a non-living show and tell, just in case ol' Sparky gets hungry halfway through and starts nibblin' on little Johnny. The teachers will usually, the day before a show and tell, innocently offer suggestions to their students (not that any student would wait until that last minute); the teachers will mention that things you find in your back yard will satisfy the base requirement of show and tell. "You can bring in a rock, or a leaf that is changing colors," the teacher will say. "Or," at this point the instructions reach a lower pitch and the students lean in closer, "if you are truly lucky and look closely, you could find a four-leaf clover!"

The children, in their frenzied, apple juice stupor, grow all excited as their eyes widen. In each of their minds, a thought grows; "I will find a four-leaf clover for show and tell next week..."

    Intricate Implications

Now, many of the children, all a flitter in the classroom, will forget their teacher's kind suggestion and show up the next week with a dull rock for show and tell, or perhaps a gray pebble with a white stripe. Out of the minority of the class that remembers to search for these mystic clovers, very few will find any. Maybe two or three times in a year a four-leaf clover will be the item for a child's show and tell. This is not for lack of trying, either. Four-leaf clovers, or Trifolium repens, are very rare and caused by genetic mutations. Very few four-leaf clovers will be brought in for show and tell because there are very few out there in the world.

And when the children find their prize, and remove it from its grassy home, they kill the clover and all hopes of that plant reproducing.

Thus removing another set of recessive four-leaf genes from the clover cross-pollinating pool.

By ushering children into this clover picking exercise, our society is (however conscious of the act) telling these children that mutation is bad. That mutations should be removed.

That it is wrong to be different.

I brought in a four-leaf clover for show-and-tell once. It was the first one that year. It was an October Friday; I had found it in a patch of clover while swimming through a pile of leaves, somewhere near the bottom of my brown and orange ocean as a deep sea diver plucking pearls from among the oysters. I, proud as ever, plucked the clover quickly and ran inside my house to preserve it in a napkin. As I was walked down to kindergarten that afternoon I knew I had the best show and tell that day, and I did. There were "oohs" and "ahhs" and brightened faces. There was the approving nod of the teacher.

There was also the tug of disappointment the next morning when I woke to find the clover dead; shriveled and brown in the napkin where I had let it stay the night.

Older generations, children's teachers, give the impression that four-leaf clovers are a talisman, a prize that must be sought. When the children are victorious in their quest, they are in fact helping, just a little bit, in the death of that mutated bit of clover. Applied to a greater scale of things, this philosophy can easily carry over to the child's adult life and have a negative effect on the formation of that child's identity. A negative effect as per that child learned at an early, impressionistic age that mutations are bad, and it is better to blend in with a crowd than to be unique.

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