What you learn from Meccano…

One of my pet peeves is the gendered nature of children’s toys. It does seem to be the case that once a toy is presented as being more for boys or girls the bulk of children not of that gender will shy away from it. So what, you might say, as long as they have the freedom to choose, right? Well, yes and no. What I found from my upbringing as someone assumed to have no interest or future in technical things is a distinct lack of training in technical areas. These areas are then considered to be ‘common sense’ but I would more argue they constitute areas of ‘common experience’ more than ‘common sense’.

One example of this, which seemingly obvious in retrospect is the use of washers as spacers when aligning sheet metal joints and how to design items so they can be fitted together. You don’t actually get taught this anywhere in school and 50 percent of the population tends to be actively discouraged from learning about this kind of thing. Shockingly you can do a whole degree in engineering and not pick this up. But you do learn this if you play with Meccano.

After years of struggling with why it was that all this ‘common sense’ was so foreign to me, I bought myself a Meccano set and spent several afternoons making models. Here in front of my eyes working through the building process were the answers and experience I was looking for. My supervisors and colleagues who knew all this detail, knew because they had played with Meccano in their childhoods, presumably for many many hours. They had no recollection that this is how they knew this or that anyone else in their position would not have had this experience. Consequently, they viewed it as common sense and felt justified in questioning the intelligence of anyone to whom it was not obvious. In actuality, it was directly related and an experience they all shared but that was not a privilege shared by everyone.

So what is the upshot of this experience? If you are finding you are missing some supposedly ‘obvious’ pieces of information as an adult. It may have less to do with your ‘common sense’ and more to do with your early experiences. In the case of mechanical understanding,  it may have to do with the toys you were exposed to and allowed to play with as a child. If you need to fill these gaps, taking up the hobby of model making beginning with a simple Meccano set can be a good place to start. Several afternoons can provide an education many years of schooling will not provide.

So what do you think? Have you had the experience of people telling you something completely foreign to you is common sense? Do you agree with the concept of common experience or are some things really just ‘obvious’? Leave a comment and let me know what you think below. Thanks for reading.



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