As teachers, parents and adults in general we have become accustomed to categorizing the people we meet into neat little boxes of judgment and preconceived prejudice based on first hand impressions dictated by our biased minds.
Sounds brutal, unfair?
Well it is, especially for the children, who too fall victim to these snap judgments made by adults, adults who are supposed to be their guardians and champions and role models. We sit and wonder how terrorists or school shooters are created and we can come up with all sorts of psychological analysis of boys growing up with too little men in their life or too much heavy metal or religion, but we never consider that the very notion of adulthood relative to childhood is a culprit of such issues.
We have become so accustomed to taking adulthood for granted as a position of seniority that we cannot even conceive of it being possible to question it, let alone its reason for existing in the first place.
A teacher or social worker sees a student. Let’s say he is black or Mexican or from the Middle East. Or maybe she has a big nose or is slightly overweight or has fiery red hair. Instantaneously snap judgments are made based on preconceived bias about certain groups of people. Maybe they are based in fear.
Maybe the teacher or social worker, or even the parent had some traumatic experience as a small child that they can’t even remember that causes them to react with revulsion towards a certain feature or based on something they saw on TV. Sometimes it is obvious and directly spawning from villains created by the media, other times it is more personal and intricate.
Whatever the case may be, the fact of the matter is that we as adults, even in professional ‘care-taker’ capacities, ostracize and stigmatize children through subtle judgments and assumptions about their character, inherent features or level of intelligence.
It is through holding such judgments, bias and assumptions that we hold children back from being all that they can be, when we say: “Oh no, he can’t do that, he’s not smart enough.” Or “I wouldn’t let him do that, they have a tendency to steal, they can’t be trusted.”
The following is a perfect example of how we as adults stifle children’s potential through categorizing and stigmatizing them, even into such normative categories as ‘toddlers’ or ‘teenagers’ or even as broad as ‘children’.
Many years ago I was working in a preschool. I was young and new to the education field. I was assigned to a classroom with 3-4 year olds and was sitting with a young girl, who happened to be stigmatized by the adults as ‘slow’. She was, as they say in psychiatry “double diagnosed” which meant that she in the eye of the adults had not only one, but two stigmas going against her: she was young and she was apparently slow.
Fortunately I wasn’t aware of the stigmas that we as preschool teachers were supposed to envelop the children in, so I gladly went ahead with a project with this little girl based on a book I had found with templates where you could cut and paste stuff to make little figurines out of cardboard.
We worked on the project together and the little girl created the template and the figurine as listed in the book. Shortly thereafter one of the older teachers came in. She took the book that I had used for inspiration and looked at the template we were working on.
She said: “THEY can’t do that, they are WAY too young for that! This is a book for 5 YEARS OLD AND UP! They simply don’t have the capabilities to do something like this, it is WAY too difficult.”
“Oh?” I said. “She just did it, see?”
I had no idea that the child wasn’t supposed to be able to do something that some child development psychologist or motor skill specialist had decided she couldn’t do.
Now, imagine how many times a child is exposed to this type of biased and judgmental behavior from adults in their life – and how easily it comes to affect their own view of themselves and what they are and aren’t capable of?
We literally have billions of people who walk around completely stifled because they haven’t been given the opportunity to actually discover what they are really capable of.
And not only this, but through the constant and continuous bias and judgments that we as adults impose on children, especially in the school and social care system, children from certain ethnic groups are stigmatized to such a degree that self-fulfilling prophecies are sealed on a daily basis, resulting in people becoming dropouts, school shooters and common criminals.
Consider this: each human being has a universe inside of them, a completely unique blueprint, a seed if you will, with all kinds of different skills and potentials and aspects. Very few people are as one-dimensional as we make them out to be when we make our first-hand impression.
But we won’t get access into that universe, unless we actively open ourselves up to it, because our bias have become our default approach to other people. So we actively have to start looking at what is beyond our initial judgments when we meet another person, or when we see a child behaving in a certain way. Maybe their behavior is contextual; maybe it is caused by fear. Maybe we are as adults perpetuating it by treating the child based on our bias and thereby we are in fact responsible for their behavior – and for it not changing.
Children are nothing, if not bundles of unleashed potential. They are not stupid or ill equipped or maniacal. As adults we can support the making of them as the potential of who they can become, or we can break them with our bias and our judgments, and they will grow up to become exactly who we expect them to be and we can say: “I told you so, he was up to no good”.
Every single human being has a unique potential that, when they live and express that, become the best that they can be – not only for themselves but also in service of the world as a whole, a unique way that they can contribute with to the world.
By stifling that (whether directly or indirectly), we are holding each other and ourselves in a permanent gridlock where nothing can change.
We say we want change, but if we really are serious about it, it is vital that we dare to question our own bias and presumptions and be open towards the fact that the world might not be what we think it is, and that we therefore must act differently in it, to bring about change. After all, we too have the potential to be and become so, much more than who and what we believe ourselves to be today.
If you are interested in reading more about discrimination towards children, I recommend my previous blog-post where I discussed childism and education at the precipe of change. My friend over at Toca Boca, Jens Peder de Pedro also wrote an excellent article on children being people too that I recommend reading. I invite you to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram where I regularly share my insights and perspectives in real time. I also recommend investigating the Living Income Guaranteed Proposal which is a progressive proposal for world change that I stand behind 100 %.