I taught Adriana…

I taught Adriana (babysitter) how to use a sewing machine today. Twenty minutes, and she can now sew a straight seam, enabling her to hem pants, sew dishtowels, make curtains and even bedspreads. Why don't we teach everyone how to do this in grammar school?

Which reminded me of this Heinlein quote:

"A human being should be able to:

change a diaper,
plan an invasion,
butcher a hog,
conn a ship,
design a building,
write a sonnet,
balance accounts,
build a wall,
set a bone,
comfort the dying,
take orders,
give orders,
act alone,
solve equations,
analyze a new problem,
pitch manure,
program a computer,
cook a tasty meal,
fight efficiently and
die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects."

I was thinking about the basic skills I have. Of his list, I can change a diaper, write a sonnet, balance accounts, cook a tasty meal and do a tiny bit of programming. I could solve an equation once upon a time, but I'm not sure I can anymore. I've read how to build a wall, but haven't yet had an opportunity to try doing it (unless you count the tiny stacked brick one we built for Ellie's roof area -- no mortar feels like cheating, though). I can certainly design a building layout, and have done a lot of that this year, but that's a long way from actually designing a building the way an architect would -- I'm not sure which Heinlein was referring to. I wish I could fight efficiently. I hope I would die gallantly, if the need arose.

I'm skipping some of the social ones, which aren't as skill-oriented, but which I can also mostly do. I'd probably add a few other basic skills I think are useful -- in my world, at least:

sew on a button by hand
sew a straight seam on a machine
do your own laundry correctly (no turning whites pink, or felting sweaters unintentionally)
grow herbs and vegetables (and flowers)
paint a room
build a table (I can't do this one, but I want to learn basic woodworking next year)
knit and crochet
teach, so you can pass on your skills and knowledge to others
entertain a child
spell and use grammar and punctuation correctly -- or be able to look it up as needed, at least

And in the social column, maybe these:

be courteous and polite
become righteously angry at injustices
and effective in conveying that anger
stand up for what you believe in
work for social change

How do you do with my list, and Heinlein's? What would you include?

6 thoughts on “I taught Adriana…”

  1. I can slaughter and butcher rabbits and chickens. Never did anything as big as a hog.

    Expanding upon your grammar and spelling entry, I would add to your list:

    Be able to communicate effectively both in writing and orally in at least one language, preferably two or three.

    I fall short on this; I have studied six different languages, but can really communicate only in English.

  2. With tongue firmly in cheek, I add:

    Be able to cite random historical dates, such as the fact that today is the 235-th anniversary of Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming

  3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Ooh — I like the multiple-language one. That’s good.

    Sadly, I also fail at this, since I have learned (to reasonable fluency) and forgotten (almost completely) three other languages so far. Sigh.

  4. Kicked off a good discussion here!
    Martin and I agreed that a person should know how to humanely kill and then field dress an animal: botch the field dressing and you ruin the meat.
    Know how to draw up a budget and follow it.
    Know how to load, shoot and unload a gun safely.
    We agree about knowing more than one language, although we don’t make the grade on that one!

  5. I’ve done everything on your list, although I haven’t used a sewing machine in about 25 years, and I’ve forgotten how to knit & crochet, not having done either in about as long.

    This is the first time I’ve read the Heinlein quote since I finished the Naval War College courses which taught me how to plan an invasion. I’ve done just under 3/4ths of his list, and know how to do most of the rest. Dying gallantly is one that you only get to know after the fact, and I’d prefer to die in my sleep at a ripe old age without getting a chance to do it.

    But I’m pretty sure that Heinlein intended his list to be examples, rather than comprehensive, so while I could come up with dozens of other things that a human being should be able to do (some of which would be those on your list and those in the comments above), I don’t think it’s necessary to do so – Heinlein’s list is broad enough that it gets the point across that one should have a wide range of skills and shouldn’t over-specialize.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *