The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, December 26, 2003  

. . . Are Knitting

Violence, guns, juvenile delinquency, truancy, premature sexual activity, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, abortion, drugs, alcohol, and the like have parents -- And their single friends and family members: we pay taxes too, remember? More than you do, most likely. -- wondering how to keep their kids (and, more often, their neighbors’ kids) out of trouble, particularly during the crucial preteen years when future patterns of behavior often are established.

Perhaps the answer to social deviancy is something as simple as knitting.

In “Half the Pupils in a New Jersey School Are Learning Knitting,” New York Times reporter Maria Newman tells the story of a unique middle-school program that should have educational administrators everywhere making notes -- or at least scratching their heads.

The kids are knitting. During recess, after school, and at home. And they’re loving it.

What do the kids -- both girls and boys -- have to say?

“Knitting is like sleeping.”

“It’s so quiet. I’m usually very jittery, but when I knit, I calm down.”

“You make a lot of friends when you knit, people you wouldn’t think you’d meet.”

“When I’m bored, I knit.”

“I like knitting better than reading. I like reading, too, but instead of reading, since it’s close to Christmas, I can knit someone a gift instead of wasting money.”

“With knitting, you don’t have a care in the world.”

“I can’t stop knitting.”

“I lay in my bed and start knitting. I think it’s very peaceful.”

And my personal favorite:

“It keeps me from getting in trouble. Like if I’m mad, instead of taking it out on someone, I take it out on the knitting.”

What instructional aide Judith Symonds launched as a mid-winter recess activity has grown into a sprawling year-round program in which half the students of Seth Boyden Elementary School, Maplewood, N.J., participate. Along with a few others: “The principal, Kristopher Harrison, has learned to knit along with the children,” Newman reports. “And sometimes, the school’s head custodian, Malik Muhammad, also sits and knits.”

Symonds, administrators, and parents tout the intellectual, academic, social, and life-skills benefits of knitting in a series of remarks to Newman that are entirely convincing.

The program has been so well received and is so highly regarded it has been expanded to incorporate parents and community members, and picked up by other schools and communities.

Whether the Maplewood program, launched in a town that isn’t exactly a community in crisis, can be replicated elsewhere, and in a manner that addresses the problems faced by and arising from today’s youth, remains to be seen.

But wouldn’t it be interesting if something so seemingly simple as the organized participation of kids in a knitting group -- or in other craft activities -- were just the thing to make a difference at the margins? (Anything to get them away from the TV. Or fussing over miniature balsa sleds or celline-wrapped gift packages.)

Of course, the potential creation of a new generation peopled by countless Mme. Defarges is a concern we may leave to others in years hence.

[See also Ronnie Polaneczky’s column in Monday’s Philadelphia Daily News for a hope-inspiring story about a group of this city’s horticultural students.]

[Full disclosure: I don’t knit. And I kill plants and trees.]

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