On How Shoes Are Dumb, Home Education, and Challenging “Normal”

Have you ever stopped and thought about why we wear shoes?  What are the actual benefits?  And if the benefits are only felt part of the time, why do we wear shoes the majority of the time?  And how did the wearing of shoes morph into a cultural mode of expression so intense that we wear certain shoes to the detriment of our feet and spine?  

One of my favorite podcasts – Freakonomics Radio - recently did an episode exploring the sometimes ridiculousness of wearing shoes. (Download it here.  Also, subscribe because the whole show is fantastic)

There are things which become “normal” in any culture, but which, upon reflection, are wholly irrational.  I wonder how many norms of our culture will be reviewed by puzzled future historians. “They surgically altered their feet to fit certain shoes?” they’ll say, “But, why?”

In our culture, it is normal to spend a day’s wages on the right pair of shoes.  It is normal to wear spine-damaging heels daily.  “Normal” does not always make sense.  “Normal” is not always rational.  In fact, “normal” ebbs and flows with culture, and in a culture like ours – driven in large part by $$$$ - “normal” is sometimes driven, dictated, or manipulated into being by those who would profit.

Sometimes, maybe even most times, “normal” should be left alone - there are benefits to going with the flow of culture.  If you decide shoes are not for you, you’re going to run into some problems getting groceries.   Wearing the wrong shoes to an interview might cost you a job, or a mate.  Stupid?  Maybe, but it’s also reality.

It doesn’t hurt though to examine why we do certain things – to challenge “normal.”  The minimalist movement does this and I am a big fan (Why do I have 20 sets of silverware?  No good reason?  Okay let’s chuck a few.)  The lifestyle design movement does this too (Why am I working 40 hours a week?  Is there a better way to use some of this time? How can I adjust my lifestyle to need less money and keep more time?)

Right now, I’m interested in challenging “normal” education.  Not your kid’s education – that’s your business – but for my own kid.  We’re about to enter homeschool and I’ve been thinking about what it means to “educate.”  Normal education sends a kid to school – public or private – or it homeschools based on a curriculum closely mimicking what is taught in traditional schools. 

Just like shoes, education is informed by society and differs widely among cultures.  In approaching how to educate my 6 year old, I’m trying to step back – WAY back.   I’m trying to ignore the way our culture educates and focus on what I think the purpose of education is: prepare a child for life.   If I could ignore what I know about “normal” education, and I was simply faced with preparing a child for life, how would I educate him?  It’s a pretty freaking important question, so I’m taking my time working toward an answer. I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

What generally unchallenged culture norm is weird to you?  I bet my fellow Myers-Briggs INTs have a list.