Picture of kids raking leaves in an article on teaching children personal responsibility by Allen West on the Old School Patriot

Lessons from Raking Leaves

In Culture, Front Page by Allen West

Okay, before y’all start scratching your heads, bear with me and read this missive to its end. Here in Dallas, we have seen several different seasons in the last two weeks. We have had a serious cold front come through and now it is a very warm wind from the south and the temperatures are in the low 70s. We are certainly in the Fall season, and that means the leaves are changing colors and falling. I took some time this week to rake some of the leaves so as to not have them aggregate too much. And don’t worry, the bagged leaves are in my driveway, not at the end of my driveway on the sidewalk. Y’all may remember the Dallas Code Enforcement idiocy from last year early December.

As I was raking the leaves, my neighbor, a former US Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) “Night Stalker,” came out to chat with me. I think he was feeling a little guilty because the leaves in my yard were from his tree. We started chatting and then I asked Billy a simple question, “remember when we were kids and we used to come through the neighborhood and rake leaves”?
Billy agreed and our conversation went even deeper.

How many of you recall the days when kids would go about the neighborhood and do the yard work to earn money? I mean when I was growing up, we never had any of the ol’ folks out cutting grass, trimming hedges, or raking leaves. We did it. It was our way of earning a little money to go to the movies or whatever little items of childhood sustenance we desired, maybe some fresh, warm Krispy Kreme donuts. During the warmer temperatures, we would be the ones going from house to house with a bucket, soap powder, and a hose to wash cars, wax was extra. We learned how to budget and the art of free market competition with the other kids.

I just have to tell you, if I were a kid in our neighborhood, I would be out here raking leaves and making myself $10 a yard. Why is it that we hardly see that happening anymore? What lessons are our kids failing to learn from raking leaves?

Former US Navy SEAL Commander, Admiral William McRaven wrote a book called Make Your Bed. The idea of the book came from a commencement address he delivered where he famously stated, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” What Adm. McRaven was alluding to is the simple lesson I learned in the military, “do the routine things routinely” and “you will never succeed at the big tasks and missions of you cannot accomplish the small ones.” Somewhere along the path adults stopped demanding that our children do the simple, routine things. We allowed them to come up with all kinds of excuses.

Recently I saw a segment on Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports that tried to assert that there was something racial about access to youth sports programs, and the resulting childhood obesity in the minority community. It is time parents stop believing that everything has to be a government program. Sure, we had PE back in the day, but our parents also made us to “chores” around the house. And I can attest, outside chores were physical in nature, like raking leaves, or cutting grass.

It is not just about the physical aspect but also the lessons learned, such as responsibility, discipline, and respect. In essence, it is about raising a little business person who learns about their word being their bond, being on time and doing their utmost best at whatever task lies before them. Let’s be honest, when you rake up those leaves and the yard looks perfect, when the hedges are trimmed perfectly, or you make those perfect lines when cutting the grass, there is a sense of pride. I remember having folks tell me how great their car would look after I cleaned it and used the Armor All on the tires and the dashboard. It is that lesson of accomplishing something that our kids are missing out on when they do not rake the leaves.

Think about it: do you enforce the standard of telling your kids to make the bed up first thing? Our oldest daughter Aubrey can tell you, and she is 25, that last week one of the things I asked her was why wasn’t she making up her bed first thing? I shared with her that as she is training to be a Physician Assistant, discipline, doing the routine things routinely are vital, important. I also stressed to her the importance of keeping her house clean, doing the little things right leads to doing the bigger things right.

We have to be the adults and set the example ourselves. Sadly, we have fallen down on the job and we create trinkets like the “participation trophy” to make kids feel good about not achieving the standard. When we have kids that set up lemonade stands in order to learn the lessons of small business entrepreneurship, we have Code Enforcement chuckleheads who write them citations. The end result is that we punish ingenuity, drive, determination, and desire for our kids to get out and earn something for themselves.

I can tell you that when I see kids in sports uniforms standing at a traffic intersection asking for money I do not donate. However, when I see kids holding a car wash, I will stop and give because they are willing to provide a service in order to raise funds, in other words, they are earning something.

Now, some of you may be saying that I am old-fashioned. Well, yes I am. As a matter of fact, I am an Old School Patriot. And if we are to develop future generations of Old School Patriots it means teaching them the lessons of raking leaves, and how to earn something through their own work, efforts. Life is not about having things handed to you, for free, However, when we do not stress to our kids that work, labor, is good, if we continue to support the “entitlement” mentality in the coming generations, then yes, socialism looks really good to them.

Here is what y’all should do: tell your kids to get off the couch, stop playing the X-Box and Fortnight, or whatever. Buy them a rake and some bags, perhaps a wheelbarrow, and tell them to go through the neighborhood and rake leaves for $10 a yard. Let them learn the old school way. When they show better effort, then buy them a leave blower, but always remind them to rake the leaves. And for those folks up north, same goes for clearing the snow from the driveways.

Once upon a time, kids would wake up early and do the newspaper runs. I now see adults doing it from cars.

Teach your kids that if they want to make a difference in the world, it starts with making up their bed. As it says in Proverbs 22:6, (NIV), “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Maybe that is why even as a 57-year-old man, I enjoy raking leaves, and feel a special sense of accomplishment when I am done. Yes, I do have a crew that comes by twice a month to super square away the yard, sometimes my travel schedule does not afford me the time. However, it would be nice to once again live in a neighborhood where every Saturday morning you would see the kids pushing their lawnmowers and carrying their rakes, ready to learn the greatest lesson, that they can build that!

That’s how we encourage future generations of entrepreneurs.

[My latest book, Hold Texas, Hold the Nation: Victory or Death is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and retailers nationwide!]