Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A World Full of Children

In the spirit of just banging it out, here are a few thoughts I've had:

I was thinking about John Holt’s vision of a world that’s safe for children; a world where there are places of peace and security in which children and adults could work side-by-side, learning from each other and growing together. I thought about how it’s only from seeing adults modeling good adult behavior that children even have the slightest clue of what it is that adults are supposed to be, and how they’re supposed to behave.
Instead of those kinds of places, we have daycare. Industrial factory-modeled schooling. Children isolated with children very close to their own age, then sent out to recess with children of a slightly wider age range for a few minutes each day. On a good day, children in school have direct, one-on-one contact with a few adults for a couple minutes each. (And then there are the children who measure the sucess of their day by how little attention they recieve from the teachers at school.) Children in our society are largely raised by other children, outside of disciplinary action from adults. Yes, kids have contact with adults at home, and in activities, but not very much compared with how much time they spend with kids. A quote I read once comes to mind: "If we spend 15 minutes a day on God, and 12 hours on things, is it any wonder that things seem more real than God?" Where we spend our time is where our reality lies. Is it any wonder that we find the adults in our society so childish? Selfishness, whether expressed in high consumer debt, road rage, vicious gossip, mindless entertainment, breaking promises & contracts, or in countless other ways, plagues our culture. Many adults are so eager to stick it to the next guy to help themselves get ahead . . . playground politics on a grand scale.

It seems ironic that it's often through spending time with children that adults become less childish; especially since that's something that many American adults avidly avoid. When it seems so clear that both children and adults benefit materially from spending time together, why is it that we're all so resistant to the idea?
I think it takes children so incredibly long to “grow up” because they are forced to live a protracted childhood. Sequestered with other inexperienced souls, they have to forge ahead as best they can. They do pick up as much adult behavior as possible from teachers and parents, coaches and church leaders. How many of us know kids who started smoking at 11 or 12, or drinking only a few years later? It’s amazing how quickly children pick up the behaviors they see, and how exactly they mimic us. And then there are the teenagers, ready for responsibility and new experiences, full of energy and primed to learn all that the world has to offer, often handed an easy life on a platter instead of the worthwhile and valuable work that they crave.

The other dichotomy I see is that once freed from schooling and isolation, (albeit isolation in a crowd), a shockingly large portion of adults are eager to then turn around and opress children in the same way. So exultant at finally winning a long-coveted place in the grown up world, these children actively exclude their own children from their company for much of the day. Parents joke about not being able to wait until summer vacation is over, and about how they’ve barely survived Spring Break. Culturally, we’ve all laughed at those jokes. Underneath the joke, though, is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen: parents who don’t yearn for the company of their own children.

How far we've come--from early cultures whose children are an integral part of their lives each day, to our highly civilized society. I know from my own experience that I had very little idea of what to DO with my children as they came into my life. And please bear in mind--these thoughts are born of my own experience. They're based on what I've seen in my life, and not meant to cover the totality of the experiences of American children on the whole. As I once read: "Remember, all generalizations are false."

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