I am one of the 1 percent.
Nah, I’m not talking money; when it comes to that I’m in another 1 percent, you know, the ones who re-use plastic grocery bags as spontaneous suitcases for overnight trips.
No, I am one of the extreme minority of people who read the placards and displays and educational signs set up in museums, or on nature walking paths, or along beaches, and after years of doing this, I’m beginning to see why 99 percent of the population totally ignores these things.
Take last week: the Norwegian Artist and I were out of town giving a 4-day watercolor workshop and in the evenings we powerfully and purposefully walked along the Belt of Green, a 15-mile path that wends its way along the river, and is filled with people biking, purposefully walking, roller blading, and some — irritatingly — strolling, although this is putting it charitably. If they were moving any slower they’d be going backwards.
Back to my point: randomly scattered about were educational signs — you’ve seen them, they look like church podiums — and they say things like this:
“What rhymes with PLATYPUS?” (I don’t know. Are there platypuses around here?)
“A river runs through it.” (Oh, how clever. By any chance would you have some information about this river, like, say, its name?)
“Trees and flowers and berries — oh MY!” (Yes, I noticed the flora. I was kind of wondering what some of it was, but all the sign tells me is that I — and every other human on the planet — am destroying it.)
Because, in the course of raising four children, I have read a lot of children’s books, I am attuned to the tone of infant literature, and I notice that the same people who write these books seem to have an evening job working on educational signs. And yet, I never see children under five reading them (which possibly may have something to do with most children under five being unable to read).
No, generally it’s people like me — women between the age of 35 and 60 — we probably own e-readers because we read all the time, anything and everything, even the newspaper classifieds — who fall for these things. And if the municipal and state and federal monies that go into creating them were spent to hire people like us, there would probably be something worth reading — actual information, for example.
But what there is, is “educational” — “It’s cool down at the tide pool. Flex your abs and check out the crabs! But make sure you don’t touch — because that’s too much!”
After reading this, and following arrows that point to a highlighted box filled with grinning fish, I know nothing about crabs, the location of tide pools, or specifically what lives in the large body of salt water in front of me, but I do know that somehow, I am destroying it.
Is this what it means to “educate” people?
I will stubbornly remain wallowing in my ignorance, entertaining my intellect with prose written beyond the 7th grade level, incorporating a mufti-syllabic word or two, imparting actual information with names and dates and descriptive thoughts and stuff like that.
I also know that I’ll continue to gravitate toward these signs, in the optimistic hope that one day I will find one that actually says something, along the lines of describing poison ivy, what it does, why I want to keep away from it, and — this part’s crucial — accompanying the verbal description with a recognizable illustration or photo of the plant.
Doesn’t that sound educational to you?
Start Your Week with Steve — Free weekly e-mail newsletter with upbeat thoughts and good news — now that’s different. Follow the link, and hit the Subscribe button at the top left.