There’s a reason we chose knives and wood carving as the topic of our first Trackers Earth book.

A knife is an incredible tool for the forest craft we do at Trackers. You can use your blade in profound ways, from making feather sticks for lighting wet wood in the rain to carving fish hooks to feed yourself. My knife has cared for my own life and comfort many times.

That’s why it feels strange to hear that some people think of knives only as weapons to be feared. Schools suspend kids for stocking a car safety kit, forgetting about the pocket knife their grandfather gave them, bringing a spork to eat lunch with, shooting an imaginary arrow and making a clock.

I understand the very real safety issues schools have to deal with. But I also believe one-size-fits-all policies play into fear and rarely lead to good solutions. Our schools, even our culture, can lack the nuance gained from interacting with the physical world.

We’re entering an era when education only allows children tools used for abstract thought. No carving tool is allowed, but a tablet computer is required. We have dramatically changed the definition of “normal” for childhood. It has become normal to steal cars or shoot people in video games, but it’s no longer normal to carry a carving knife to whittle with.

On top of that, kids get shorter recess and more homework. They’re no longer allowed to play at the park on their own, or even climb trees there. Connecting with the physical world has, in some ways, become illegal in our schools and irrelevant in our lives.

But for some kids, I have seen that shift with powerful results. I’ve watched them use knives to gut a trout they caught for dinner. Afterwards, they cooked those fish over a campfire they started with the bow drill they carved. They even ate stew with spoons they whittled. I feel fortunate to witness many of these small but profound interactions with the forest, the cold, sunshine, the earth and the out of doors.

With a knife and other tools (even of stone, bone and wood), the essentials of life don’t come from an ethereal cloud. They come from paying attention to Nature, to things not just human-made. Through intelligent use of tools, including knives, schools can empower kids to interact with life: making and learning with their minds, hands and hearts.

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