In several decades of hanging around people who make things, one meets a lot of people fascinated by locks, lock picking, and locksport. It’s interesting to be sure, but it had never gripped me until an evening in MK Makerspace when a fellow member had brought in his lockpicking box with its selection of locks, padlocks, and tools. I was shown the basics of opening cheap — read easy from that— padlocks, and though I wasn’t hooked for life I found it to be a fascinating experience. Discussing it the next day a friend remarked that it was an essential skill they’d taught their 12-year-old, which left me wondering, just what skills would you give to a 12-year-old?
Your Skills Are Most Numerous When You Try To Remember What They Were
My instant thoughts turned towards the practical, and what I could do back when jumpers were goalposts, which probably wasn’t as much as I would like to think it was, and certainly didn’t include lock picking. Aside from the stuff a British village primary school teaches you I could solder, badly, I understood the basic electronics of germanium transistors and regenerative AM radios, I could code in Sinclair Basic and elementary Z80, and I could inexpertly bash nails and saw pieces of wood to assemble rudimentary constructions for outdoor forts and the like in the recesses of farmland hedges. All practical skills, and in more developed forms later in life those which have stood me in good stead.
But what I missed in that round-up were a load of other skills I had that are every bit as lifetime-useful as those I listed. I was a voracious reader, which set me up for a lifetime of literacy, a career in publishing companies, and ultimately to write for Hackaday. I had all the farm-bred mix of curiosity and practicality, which breeds an innate knowledge that you can make or fix anything. And I could grow things, my sisters and I had been tending our little vegetable plots since early childhood. There is nothing quite like eating a tomato that you have grown, when you are a kid.
Clearly the question of what skills a 12-year-old should have is a lot more complex than at first meets the eye, so in my musing I asked the rest of the Hackaday team what they thought of it.
Enough To Be Dangerous In As Many Broad Areas As Possible
Probably the best single quote came from Jonathan Bennett: “Enough to be dangerous in as many broad areas as possible“, Which made me laugh, but has a basis in truth. What was particularly interesting was that it was an even mix between the type of practical skills I first launched into, and more life-skill type of knowledge. Both Al and Mike homed in on something I’ve struggled to achieve at a basic level in the years since my twelfth birthday, to learn a second language. We Anglophones are bad at that, and I am constantly shamed by my Continental and other friends with their perfect English. I speak French and Welsh badly after enormous effort, and I am diligently studying to add Dutch to that list. If I had a twelve-year-old, I would do everything I could to expose them to languages as early as they can hear them.
A common concern was skills that you might loosely term as essential for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Whether or not this relates to any real feeling that an apocalypse will soon be upon us or not is moot, but it could also touch on the pervasive sense that as a society we are losing touch with those basic skills that our ancestors might have taken for granted. Though it might be beyond a twelve-year-old, a modern twist came in one of those skills being the ability to synthesize or extract essential drugs such as insulin in the manner of Eva and Victor Saxl in wartime Shanghai.
We had quite a discussion on this matter, and came up with far too many ideas to easily condense into a single article. But it’s an interesting exercise whether you have kids or not, because it combines both nostalgia for your own past and the chance to assemble your perfect future — and make no doubt that the needs of the future are constantly changing.
Tell us in the comments what you’d equip your twelve-year-old with, but as you do so be careful. Your parents probably also saddled you with things you’d prefer not to have, make sure you don’t follow their example.