As adults, and as parents in particular, we tend to focus on ‘short-term results’ when it comes to our kids. But what is seldom considered is the longitude of a child’s life and how there is so much more to life besides ‘making it’ in the labor force.
When we as parents look at our children’s future, this is often the primary point of concern, and we more often than not, place it as our ultimate goal to get them into the workforce to become productive members of society. Then we have done everything we could. Then we are satisfied and can exhale in relief, knowing that we have finally earned our stripes as parents.
We are so scared of them not making it, that we forget about supporting our children to become WHOLE human beings.
More and more children suffer from stress and anxiety when it comes to performing well in schools and they get younger and younger. The more tests and exams there is in a school environment, the more stress and anxiety there is.
As adults we know very well how complicated and confusing life as a human being can be. From communication in relationships to managing a budget or a diet, we are constantly faced with choices and challenges that form part of being a member of society – and this is true whether we have made it to become successful members of the working force or not.
In fact, research has found that while being successful and making lots of money makes for a more comfortable life, it doesn’t in itself satisfy us on a deeper level as human beings. What is however satisfying (also known as “what makes you happy”) is to have genuine human connections and to live a life that is meaningful to you and where you have time to pursue the things you are interested in.
Too bad most of us do not find out about this until we are way into our 20’s and 30’s or 50’s and most of our bad habits and dysfunctional patterns have already become ingrown parts of us that often requires years of therapy and major life changing events to decode, let alone reverse.
One of the reasons why I am a supporter of unschooling and the continuum concept is exactly because these educational and child-rearing principles considers the whole child and not only the development of cognitive and motoric abilities with the purpose of creating effective worker-bees.
In unschooling environments for example (at least ideally), there is no fear of the child not making something productive of his or her life if they don’t go to school or take tests or exams – and therefore the child is supported to explore their interests unconditionally. Because the child is supported to explore their interests unconditionally, they are also given a trust that in turn can develop into self-trust.
When the child is respected for all that he or she is, every dimension on the child’s development is taken into consideration, whether this is the development of motoric skills or communication or understanding and being able to direct one’s emotions in a supportive way.
When the whole child is considered, there is also a respect for who the child is in its own right, as an individual being who has its own ambitions and interests that cannot be preconceived or determined by a parent or a teacher, and it is therefore much more the role of the parent or the teacher to help the child discover and develop these potentials rather than predefine them. After all, aren’t we ourselves equally on a search to be and become whole human beings? Aren’t we equally interested in being respected for who we are, as who we are?
An important part of becoming this person in a child’s life, who stands with and by the child in equality and integrity, is for the parent or the adult to embark on this journey of discovery for ourselves. After all, how can we stand with the child through its journey as more experienced life-walkers, if we do not in fact have experience of what it means to become whole human beings?
This means that if we as parents or teachers or adults in general wants to give our children the opportunity to already from the get-go develop their entire register of capabilities that is available to them as a potential, we have to first walk this process ourselves.
The process we need to walk is equally about learning how to communicate in supportive ways in our relationships, discovering what makes us satisfied in life on a deeper level and pursue it without fear, and as we do that we become beacons of inspiration who can stand as living examples for our children of what it means to be whole human beings,
Human beings with sound integrity, human beings with compassion, human beings with generosity and confidence and self-trust – everything that we have ever wanted ourselves to be and become if only we dared to admit it to ourselves.
I will leave you with this message:
I wouldn’t worry too much about my child’s academic results if I were you. In fact, I wouldn’t worry at all, because when you worry about your child’s life, you teach them to worry about their lives too.
So if you are a parent or a teacher and if you find yourself worrying daily about tests and exams and whether your child is going to make it or not – I would suggest to stop up for a moment. Take a deep breath and look around you. Most likely nothing is falling apart. Your child isn’t on a path of self-destruction (hopefully!). In fact, everything is quite fine. (And if it truly isn’t, definitely suggest seeking some help). Most likely, your child is healthy and happy and resilient and there are things it needs so much more in life than being forced into a grueling regime of tests and scores and among these things, are you.
Much more than necessarily needing to learn the square root of 3 at the age of 11, your child needs to form a meaningful connection with you as a parent, to see adults who communicate in a sound way, to see and be with animals and nature and all kinds of things this world has to offer, to learn to want to learn on their own and have confidence in their own learning ability. Your child needs to learn how to take care of their own body, and to stand with integrity in their relationship with their body and to be able to sense what foods or substances supports them or not. This will prepare them for life. Learning the square root of 3 will not. I am not saying it isn’t important – but it certainly isn’t the most important thing in a child’s life, not if the goal is to support your child to become a whole human being who can effectively direct and decide over their life.
In the next post I will go deeper into the process of deschooling, the process that I would claim is the key to saving the world. Stay tuned…
The world as we know it is at a crossroads, a crossroads where the old is colliding with the new, where past generations feebly cling onto old ways while new generations spearhead towards the future, creating a gap in between of being stuck in transition: We cannot go back to how things were because the world has changed too much, but we also cannot move forward because we still cling on to old ideas about how the world is supposed to be, that we refuse to let go of, to actually allow the world to change.
It can be seen in the dichotomy between the business world and the political arena; the business world has developed and grown uninhibited to the point where it is almost completely fluid as business owners can move and conduct business on all continents of the world without much regulation or control.
A business can be run from one country while paying taxes in another and manufacturing products in a third. International politics on the other hand, has developed very slowly and is almost non-existing when it comes to providing regulations for those businesses that move on a global level, and that impact lives of people all over the globe. Business owners thereby exploit the lack of regulations placed on their businesses, using lack of infrastructure in lesser-developed countries as an excuse to exploit both natural resources as well as people in many countries.
It can be argued that a solution must be implemented that intercepts the rapid development of businesses without regulation and that this solution requires a modernization of our political systems, specifically in the arena of international and transnational politics – not so much to regulate and control businesses but to protect vulnerable nations and peoples from being exploited and destabilized.
The same dichotomy between the old and the new can be seen when it comes to education.
The school systems (but even the very notion of schooling itself) operate with archaic methods that leave students neither very well educated nor well informed, but with massive student debts that only seem to increase exponentially each year.
The rapid developments of digital technologies and the emergence of the internet has in contrast made it possible for kids all over the world to educate themselves, to gain access to any form of information ever produced, and to even be able to publicize themselves in a vast array of arenas from film production to journalism and photography, often completely free of charge, with nothing more than the push of a button on a smartphone or tablet.
Similarly as to how businesses can operate with great flexibility and without much political oversight, kids today can move more or less freely online, creating social media accounts en mass and often to the great dismay of adults who are in no way as skilled as using these tools and who therefore are not in a position to supervise or even advise the child on how to use these devices and services.
Online bullying and the emergence of easily accessible hardcore pornography are some of the pitfalls of the Internet that many kids are exposed to today, in a much higher degree than most adults are even aware of or capable of controlling.
Very few schools (or parents for that matter) show kids how to effectively navigate, not only the internet but also the thousands of ‘worlds’ sprouting up inside of it, as well as the devices used to access these worlds and when they do, it is again using archaic and condescending methods assuming the kids are at a lesser developed stage of internet mobility and navigation than that of adults when they are in fact quantum leaps ahead of us.
The Internet is a wonderful and chaotic place and it is in many ways the only truly anarchistic ‘place’ on the planet, but because of that, kids also have very little guidance on how to move and navigate online in a way that is supportive for them. It is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it is the deregulated (and thereby uncensored) nature of the Internet that causes kids to be exposed to things they shouldn’t see, that no one in fact should see. But it is at the same time also what allows kids and adults alike to educate themselves on things that never would have been allowed into schools twenty years ago. There is an enormous potential for personal empowerment when everything you ever wanted to learn is at your finger tips, literally free of charge, and you can do it more or less completely on your own.
It can in fact be argued that schools, as places where kids are supposed to obtain skills and knowledge, becomes utterly redundant when the internet offers everything the school can offer, with the click of a button. And maybe this is exactly why very few schools focus on supporting kids to learn how to navigate the internet in the most effective ways, obviously because most teachers have no idea how to do that themselves, but certainly also because it would give the students the power to take responsibility for their own education and that would cause a potential collapse of the school system as we know it.
The political system has a lot to learn from the business world. Despite its many flaws, especially in the social and ecological responsibility department, the business world has been developed many effective way to structure collaboration and interaction between people all over the world. The political arena has to catch up to that, at least if politicians are serious about regulating for example the way fracking and timber companies are exploiting the earth’s natural resources. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the business world should instead be developed to incorporate the best features of the political arena, the responsibility and accountability towards the public and the land or maybe the two worlds ought to merge, as they are already so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where politics begins and where business ends.
One thing is certain: We are standing at a crossroads in human evolution where we can no longer deny the fact, that what we have taken for granted as being stable structures that support life, like the political and educational arenas, are not meeting the demands of the time. It is time to come up with new structures, maybe more flexible or fluid structures that more effectively adapt to the fluidity of an increasingly global society.
The current political and education systems are built on false pretenses and it has now become evident that neither system in its current format supports the development of a world that is best for all.
This is why we need to support these old systems to collapse because they cannot keep up with the exponential development of our societies but even more importantly, we have to stand ready with new and fresh ideas of how to conduct politics for example, in a highly globalized world, or how to conduct education in a way that honors the sovereignty of kids to learn on their own hand.
We can only come up with these new ideas if we stop clinging onto the old. We have to allow ourselves to, for the first time, think completely out of the box that is this world system and imagine a completely new way of life. We cannot change world as long as we insist on doing things the way we have always done it. That is the challenge of the times we are in, but it is also a unique opportunity arisen from the fact that the redundancy of the old has become evident, and therefore, coming up with new ways of doing things is not only imperative, but in fact inevitable. All that remains to be seen is how long we will remain stuck in transition before we finally let go – and start over.
How do you raise a child?
My answer: you don’t.
Have a look at how a child learns to crawl, stand and walk. The child does that on its own. The adult might support with various devices like walkers and strollers, or through encouragingly inviting the child to stumble into their embrace, but it is the child alone that instinctively on a visceral level figures out how to manage its muscles and bones to eventually raise itself from the ground and onto two feet.
It is not like the child has to go through tedious ‘crawling training’ where parents use various techniques to coax the child into crawling or force the child to stand in the crawling position until it starts crawling on its own. Sounds absurd, abusive even? Well, it is a technique many parents use for what is known as ‘potty training’. Learning how to read and write is another example where we impose an artificial model onto the child and expect certain results on a scheduled basis according to the child’s age.
So why is that we trust the child to raise itself up from the ground without having to go through classes and training sessions while there is so much more we would never trust in the hands of the child to learn on their own?
As adults we believe that we have, not only a responsibility but also a prerogative when it comes to raising a child. We think that we know what is best, and that we are the best to show our children how to best live in the world.
After all, we are the ones who bring the child off of the ground, or at least so we think; we see ourselves as the gatekeepers of human evolution, who raises the child from the hunched and primitive ape stage into the upright homo sapiens creature that we proudly identify ourselves as today.
There is just one problem:
As adults we know virtually nothing about the world or how to effectively live in it. We can barely maintain personal relationships due to lack of effective communication skills and understanding of our own psyches. Professionally most of us walk around like sheep desperately awaiting the next paycheck while complaining that we do not have time to work on the things we really care about. A lot of us are either passive aggressive or just straight up aggressive our we simply don’t really care about anything as we go about our daily lives in a haze of entertainment and stimulation.
Many adults claim to have values, but very few adults actually live or stand by their values. Many adults also talk a lot to children about values like friendship and sharing but seldom stand as a living example of what it means to live those values. Then there are the insecurities, the neuroses, and the addictions that we as adults drag around, along with our mommy issues and sexual frustrations.
If you have a look at the state the world is currently in, we have as adults not done a particular good job at taking care of it all. We start wars for no reason, we pollute the oceans and then we try to fix it with our mock political systems that everyone knows are nothing but puppet shows to keep the masses contained. And yet, when it comes to children, we see ourselves as these omnipotent figures who are pr. definition always right.
Let’s be honest: Adults are in no way capable or qualified of raising children or educating them on how to be in the world. We are, in fact, the worst possible example any new members of the human race could be given to model themselves after.
This is not to say that all of us would make horrible parents or that we should not have children, but that we ought to view ourselves with more humble eyes than most of us currently do when it comes to our relationship with children, and to not assume that we do or that we should know everything about the world and that when we share/show something to a child, that it is automatically right or true.
In fact, I am sure that if we as adults took an approach to child-rearing as it were, where we saw ourselves as equally learning from the child as they learn from us, that everyone would benefit.
See, the difference between children and us adults is that they have not (yet) as we have, been brought up by adults exhibiting all the same flaws and dysfunctional patterns that we are now exhibiting due to our upbringing.
That means that we from the get-go have the opportunity to do things differently with them, to break the cycles of dysfunction and stupidity that we ourselves were recycled into. One way of doing that is by not enforcing our ideas and beliefs on the child, but to see the moment a child comes into our lives as an opportunity for a fresh start where we together with the child can learn how to best live in the world, both for ourselves and for everyone around us.
So when a child comes into our lives, whether through our own loins or through the process of education in one way or another or in some other way, we can actively change our approach from by default seeing ourselves as the ones who has to raise the child, to seeing the relationship with the child as one where both raise themselves together in mutual support and joy of learning.
There are many things a child can learn from adults around it, but there are equally as many things we as adults can learn from children, and so if we dared to, we could utilize the opportunity of being in a learning process with a child to also re-educate ourselves to get to know the world again, this time with more awareness of our past mistakes and thus with an ability to direct ourselves more clearly, while at the same time see the world through the eyes of the child and from there discover a new way of living on earth because we are on one hand living it for the first time and on the other are bringing wisdom and experience into the process.
Children do not need us to raise them. They are perfectly capable of raising themselves. What they do need is our steady support and assistance and that we raise ourselves to live our full potential so that we may stand as an example to them of what is possible when it comes to being a human being in this world.
If I were to illustrate what it is like to be a child in an adult world, it would be an image of being surrounded by lots and lots of legs, the legs of adults that stand and move around you, seemingly without giving any regard to your existence. Theirs is the ‘real world’, up there in the clouds, among their important heads and animated arms and talking mouths, and you are like a little bug that buzzes around them, an annoying little bug that is easily pushed aside and squashed because it is so unimportant.
Adults are always so busy, so preoccupied with “important things that children don’t understand” that it is as though every moment becomes a ‘life or death crisis’ that requires the full and undivided attention of the adult. It doesn’t matter whether this is a moment of shopping groceries or some other trivial everyday activity or an actual real crisis situation; adults always seem like soldiers marching into war and whatever they are busy with is always more important than the child, even when it is not in fact.
It is as though we as adults perceive children as a form of disturbance or nuisance in our (very important and busy) lives. As a child I noticed this and I noticed how adults, because of how they perceive children and how they perceive themselves and their time, often do not listen to children or hear them out but make snap judgments and assumptions – often coming to the (wrong) conclusion that the child is being ‘wasteful’ or ‘spiteful’ or ‘whining’ when the child might simply be expressing a need or want in a moment that by the adult is perceived as ‘bad timing’.
As a child I often felt misunderstood and unfairly treated, especially in those moments where adults seemed so busy and preoccupied. When I spoke to them and they for a brief moment glanced at me, it was as though they saw straight through me, as though I were not really there, or as though I to them were more a theoretical concept than an actual living being. I was ‘a child’.
Adults also very often make promises that they then cannot or choose not to uphold when it comes to children as though a promise to a child is worth less than say, a promise to another adult like a co-worker, friend or boss. What is even worse is that we tend to find a way to blame the child so as to not admit that we have been untrustworthy and unreliable and not only does it make the child distrust us, it also makes them distrust themselves and their own perception of reality. After all, adults are supposed to be the guides of this earth that welcomes the new generation into life and shows them the way.
But what way is it really we are showing them?
It is imperative that we as a society, and especially as parents and in fields working with children start discussing how we define the word ‘child’, not only in a literal sense but also through the hidden judgments and assumptions that makes us not see the person standing in front of us (although only half our size) but instead only see an abstract concept that we call ‘child’.
There is no way of truly getting a child to respect you unless you respect them first. When children are met with equal respect as we would give another adult or that we would have wanted to be met with ourselves, when we actually stop up and listen and even when we are busy give them a moment of our time, they meet this respect with honor and a genuine wish to reciprocate this respect.
If we on the other hand continue to approach children with judgments and preconceived assumptions where we have already before they speak, made up our minds about who they are, they will continue to perpetuate the image we have of them. There are so many instances where we as adults can misunderstand a child’s intentions or requests because we are honestly too preoccupied in our own minds to even really care. The consequence is often that the child end up making mistakes or doing things that we consider to be ‘wrong’ because WE were not clear in our communication with them or because WE didn’t listen properly and what is even worse: when we then haphazardly scold them (because we are again too busy and see them as a disturbance) they do not learn how to practically correct their mistakes or see how they could have been prevented but instead learn that THEY are ‘wrong’, that THEY are ‘bad’ – when nothing could be further from the truth.
A child coming into this world is the potential of a new beginning, a way of doing things differently, better, learning from our mistakes – isn’t that what evolution is supposed to be all about; humanity as a species evolving and adapting to become stronger and more resilient?
Then why do we keep creating the same mistakes over and over through insisting on children being and becoming the spit images of the very worst parts of ourselves?
When I was around 10 years old, I made a promise to myself: That I would never forget what it is like to be a child. I saw so many adults around me that had completely forgotten what it was like to be a child and because of this, they treated children with callous distance, always assuming the worst from the child. So I decided that I would always keep my childhood with me and that when I became an adult, I would treat children as I would have wanted to be treated when I was a child. This promise is the foundation of everything I do in my work today.
Anyone can do the same.
It is really quite simple: all we need to do is to practice meeting children with respect and dignity and each time they come to us, take a moment to stop up and really consider what they are saying, asking or showing – without preempted contempt or judgment. And if we truly are too busy, we can arrange for a time to take or say that we will come back to them with a proper answer. Let’s see the highest and most utmost potential our children can be and become and let’s treat them accordingly, with dignity, honor and respect. How else are they going to become future adults who embody these qualities?
“If you observe children learning in their first few years of life, you can see that they can and do learn on their own – we leave them alone to crawl, walk, talk, and gain control over their bodies. It happens without much help from parents. You can’t make someone learn something – you really can’t teach someone something – they have to want to learn it. And if they want to learn, they will.” – Daniel Greenberg, Co-founder of the Sudbury Valley school
A couple of weeks ago I visited the first Sudbury school in Denmark together with a group of fellow educational activists and school developers from Sweden.
The Danish Sudbury School is modeled and named after the original school situated in Sudbury Valley in Massachusetts in the United States.
The Sudbury School is one of the only schools in the world that bases its activities on self-directed learning and unschooling principles, giving children the freedom (and responsibility) to explore their interests uninhibited.
At a Sudbury school there are no classes, no grades and no age segregation. Children from the ages of 4-18 are welcomed into the school without specific enrollment requirements (besides the willingness to embrace the school’s principles).
The basic principle of the Sudbury school is that children are equipped with a natural learning ability that does not require adult control or interference, so at Sudbury schools children are encouraged to follow their own interests and passions in whatever way they wish, be that fishing for months on end or playing computer games for hours and hours.
For people who are used to traditional forms of schooling, Sudbury schooling might sound extreme, radical and even dangerous. “How are children going to learn without adults teaching them?” “How are they going to prepare to step into society without formal education?” “How do they learn to read and write?” “Aren’t the kids just sitting around wasting their day doing nothing when they have this kind of total freedom?”
We have become so conditioned (through our own schooling) to take traditional formal schooling for granted that we cannot even fathom that it is possible to learn without adult interference and control. We assume that traditional forms of schooling are optimally designed to teach us everything we need to know and that its structures of control are created for our protection and safety.
In traditional schooling forms children are viewed as being naturally resisting towards learning and even as savage and malignant in nature and this is why so many structures of control and force are used to keep the child contained and confined.
But what if it is in fact the other way around? That all the structures of control and force embedded in traditional school is what is causing children to become defiant, apathetic and resisting towards learning?
At Sudbury schools a great amount of trust is placed on the child’s ability to direct its own learning. Children are seen as competent and equal members of society who has just as much to contribute with as any adult. Children are given the space and time to find out what interests them and the support of adults and the learning environment to pursue those interests.
In his book Free at last, Daniel Greenberg, one of the founders and chief philosophers of the Sudbury Valley School writes that children at Sudbury schools often learn vast amounts of materials in short periods of time. Greenberg shares an example about a group of 9-12 year old children who wanted to learn math and who, because they were dedicated and self-directed in their aim to learn, with the help of a math teacher, learned the entire 6th through 12th grade curriculum of math in 20 weeks.
What is difficult is not to learn the material in itself but how traditional schools tries to pound it into the heads of children who hates every step of it. The only way to do that is through consistently repeat the material over and over for years on end, and even then there is no guarantee that the child will remember what it was taught. A child who wants to learn however, who has initiated the learning process on their own, can learn something within a matter of days or weeks.
We need to reassess the way we look at education, because at the moment we are holding, not only individual children back from developing their full potential, but in fact entire generations of children and as a result: humanity as a whole.
This is directly reflected in the current state of the world which, as should be obvious to all of us know, is in a state of uproar and disintegration.
Sudbury schools are a powerful example of children’s ability to learn without adult interference and how what comes out on the other end of that education is not a lazy, apathetic, illiterate human being, which is ironically most often a product of traditional schooling.
Adults do not want children to be free, because they fear children, but it is not so much that they fear the children but in fact that they fear themselves. This is what traditional schools teach us: to fear our natural expression, to see it as too wild, too unruly to be left unrestrained. Since childhood we’ve come to associate moments of natural expression with being scolded, simply because most traditional schools (and most families as well) aren’t designed to harness or embrace that natural expression within us – and so we never realize how that wildness, given the right environment could allow us to bloom into our utmost unique potential. If we should learn anything from the Sudbury experiment, it is that. If there’s anything we should model our societies after, it is that.
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 %.
“We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment…and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap.“ – Flemeth, Dragon Age
Throughout the course of human history there have been certain periods in which the advancement of new technologies took quantum leaps. This is no more true than in the times we live in right now, where the very foundation upon which our societies are built are changing in rapid speed, especially through the introduction of a digital and global civilization.
Not only are we living in an era where more quantum leaps than ever are taken in the areas of human development on all possible levels; we are also living in a time where the traditional boundaries between children and adults are disintegrating before our very eyes.
I am sure that all parents, however old, can recognize themselves in the scenario where their 2-year-old or 5-year-old or 17-year-old navigates digital devises with a natural ease that they themselves can only dream of, and that because their child is able to navigate these devises as were it a native speaker of their language, feel like a foreigner in a foreign country.
Our adult-child relations are based on the foundation that adults pr. Definition knows more about the world than the child and therefore has the responsibility, but also the prerogative to educate and administer the child, based on the assumption that because the adult knows more about the world, they also knows what is best for the child and therefore assumes an automated role of authority and superiority with the child as their minion to mold as they see fit.
Through the rapid advancements, especially in the development of digital technologies, a transition of the role of being knowledge-bearing is shifting from adults to children, with the children being the ones who knows the most about how to best navigate the virtual world through digital devises as well as the devises themselves.
There have been other eras in the course of human history where the younger generations came up with, or embrace new inventions in ways that rattled the older generations, but it has never happened in the profound way that it is happening right now, where the new inventions are affecting all areas of human life from social relationships to banking and education.
This means that the generations growing up right now are faced with the challenge of having to teach themselves since adults are in many cases far behind them when it comes to understanding virtual and digital worlds, although most adults still cling onto the illusion that they are (or at least should be) capable of teaching children these tools from a stance of authority.
As an adult who works with supporting children to become self-empowered and self-directive, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth, and the more we as adults try to reign in children and prevent the integration between digital and physical societies, the more they are simply going to do it without us, because it is a process that cannot – and should not – be stopped.
What would be much more beneficial is for us as adults to be humble towards the transformation happening, and rather than trying to position ourselves as captains of a ship that we know nothing about steering, stand as pillars of support for the coming generations and together embark on a journey of discovery and immerse ourselves in this brave new world.
It ought to be clear now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have come to the end of rope of our current way of conducting education in this world. There are absolutely no reason why children should not be able to direct their own educational processes aligned to their individual needs and interests – in fact, many results show that this type of education is the most beneficial for individual learning which in turn is most beneficial for society as a whole because the individual is able to develop so much more of their unique potential.
The current education system is archaic at best – and at worst it is clung onto and safeguarded by adults who fear losing their position of power despite knowing how redundant the system in fact is, because it would mean admitting that we as adults are redundant – like a species that did not adequately adapt to the demands of an evolving environment and therefore dies out and vanishes as new life forms takes its place.
We therefore have a choice: we can either embrace the imminent changes and support the coming generations to dismantle the current education system or we can cling onto an archaic system just because we are afraid of letting go of control and thereby make an inevitable process more difficult for everyone involved.
By immersing ourselves in the opportunity that lay before us, to deconstruct and redefine, not only the education systems, but the entire foundation upon which we live on this planet, we too will change, transform and evolve – so rather than trying to hold onto an illusion of importance and authority when it is evident that this belongs to a past long gone, we can make new meaning of ourselves, redefine what it means to be an adult – and create the life for ourselves that we’ve always wanted, but that we never even dared to dream of… until now.
There is a new wave of education underway. You can either let it wash over you and be crushed, or you can learn how to ride it. One thing is certain: it cannot be stopped.
Education can be defined and reflected upon through many layers or dimensions, some of which are more pure and practical, where others are constructed for the purposes of promoting particular discourses in society.
The most superficial dimension, the one we take for granted in our daily lives, is for instance the belief that all children need to go to school from the ages of six to sixteen, that they should read textbooks to learn about the world and that they should be taught by a teacher. In some cultures education happens when the child is integrated into the daily work of the adults and through a process of apprenticeship learn how to navigate and handle the reality they are a part of. There is no school, and yet – the child is educated.
As such, how we see education is very much dependent on the discourses that we have been brought up with and have come to take for granted.
Looking deeper into the layers of the word education, in a primordial sense, at least in the context of human experience, education is a process of learning from past generations to find the most effective ways to survive. As social animals, we do that through our societies and through our relationships with other human beings, but what if it is possible to look even further?
What does education mean in an existential context?
Why are we here and what are we here to learn?
Some would claim that we are here by the grace of divine intervention, to learn about what it means to be human or to go through a process of karmic evolving, eventually resulting in a form of ‘graduation’ that they call enlightenment. Others believe we are here due to the sins of our ancestors and that our purpose is to earn the forgiveness of God to be accepted back into his graces.
Education is thus on a an existential level, intrinsically intertwined with the question of why we are here and what the meaning of life is, as much as it is grounded in a practical reality question of how to survive in the most effective way.
It is an interesting conundrum because as soon as we ask the questions “Why are we here?” and “What are we here to learn?” we are implicitly implying that we exist in a predetermined existence with an intentional beginning, middle and ending, as were we nothing but the mere fictional characters in a story sprung from an author’s imagination.
But what if there is no such preordained purpose with our lives? Or what is there is, but it is steering us towards the path of destruction? Wouldn’t we want to reexamine that which we call education and to what purpose we engage ourselves within it?
Instead of looking for a preordained and finite answer through which we define ourselves as but the instruments of an abstract divine will, we can change the way we approach these questions. Instead of looking for an answer that is already decided upon, we can decide to answer these questions for ourselves.
In investigating the answers one would give to these questions, one can then also investigate the potential consequential outflows that follow. If you for example decide that we are here to have fun and experience as much as possible, then the point of education becomes a process of learning how to do just that. But what would the world look like if all we focused on were having fun? How long would we be able to sustain ourselves on the planet?
As such, the logical way to answer these questions for oneself would be to look for the most optimal and sustainable long-term approach. If we were to decide that we are here ‘to live’ for example, we would want to make sure that we could actually do that, by taking care of our habitat, because otherwise we would be antagonizing our very own purpose for existing, which would be rather pointless.
If we are interested in the process of creating an optimized, fertile and expansive life for ourselves on this planet where we thrive on an individual level as well as through the global ecosystems that sustain us, we ought to investigate the predetermined and implicit answers to the questions of why we are here and what we are here to learn because whatever the answers to these questions are, is what we are already living.
It could look something like this: “We are here to destroy life.” Or “We are here to consume all resources until there is nothing left.” Or “We are here to compete with each other with the goal of one of us being king over existence and become immortal and untouchable and have control over all life.” It is quite absurd when you look at it this way, but isn’t this what we are already living?
The question of what we are here to learn thus cannot be answered without also answering the question of why we are here and as such, educational process, even in the most surface layers of dimensions will always be connected to this question and the way we answer it, whether implicitly or with intent.
Education is therefore something that ought to be revised and questioned and evaluated on a continuous basis – and not as it is now, taken for granted and locked into static and archaic models, models that does not in any way support life to thrive.
In answering the question of why we are here, with awareness and responsibility, through making a decision based on common sense, the process of education can be clearly determined. In not answering the question of why we are, ghosts of the past will continue to haunt our existence and will possess our every move, as were we nothing but marionette dolls on imaginary strings held up by the figment of our own imagination.
We can make the decision – through directive deliberation and consideration – to decide that we are here, firstly and foremost to stop the destruction of the planet and our habit and to stop the unnecessary suffering of billions of life forms, and secondly, to create a co-existence on the planet that supports all individual life forms to thrive in the most optimal way for all to thrive.
This in fact, ought to be the most fundamental and commonsense form of education, because without it we will always be doing nothing but putting out fires only to reignite them, to do damage control and create makeshift solutions that doesn’t ever really get us anywhere.
We ought to have a common living principle of saying that: first we make sure that our habitat is optimal and that all life forms are supported to thrive and only when this is ensured can we begin to explore what other reasons we will decide to give ourselves for existing. Only then can we begin to explore what it really means to be alive. Isn’t that why we are here? To discover the real meaning of Life?
Education is a process that each new generation goes through, to learn about the ways of the world so as to effectively integrate into society. We educate our young so that we may not have to reinvent the wheel over and over with every new generation – and it is because of education that we have been able to progress from the horse carriage wheel to the motorized wheel and who knows, maybe someday soon we will implement the hovercraft in its place.
I will argue that education is the most important process for the continuous development of our societies, not only in terms of building on past experiences but also in terms of learning from mistakes made in the past.
Throughout the course of human history we have learned a great deal. We have categorized and sorted the resources of our planet so efficiently that we have turned the planet itself into gigantic organized industrialized machinery that enables us to produce massive amounts of food, fuel and other goods at record speed, all year round.
We used to look upon ourselves as the result of a continuous process of upward progression as we marveled at our own inventions. We still do to some extent, as new technologies are manufactured that seems to break the barriers between the magical and the laws of physics.
There is something else happening as well. We are starting to envision the karmic downfall of our rapid climb through evolution. As our intelligence has evolved, so has our ability to destruct. As our knowledge about the world has expanded, so has the cruelty of our methods of extracting resources from the earth. We are starting to realize that we might not be as smart as we thought, as our eagerness to progress also have brought with it the mass-extinction of entire animal species and seemingly never-ending wars. This too, is a result of education.
“Think of the things killing us as a nation: narcotic drugs, brainless competition, dishonesty, greed, recreational sex, the pornography of violence, gambling, alcohol, and — the worst pornography of all — lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a philosophy. All of these are addictions of dependent personalities. That is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce. A large fraction of our total economy has grown up around providing service and counseling to inadequate people, and inadequate people are the main product of government compulsion schools. – John Taylor Gatto
Every animal goes through a process of education, from the baby chicken that carefully listens after its mother’s chuckles indicating which plants are to be eaten and which are not, to the walrus that gently teaches its calf how to pull its weight out of the water or the Nile crocodile that carries its offspring in a small pouch inside the mouth to a water hole where it teaches them to hunt.
The difference between animal and human education is that animals educate their young ones to survive. Evolution is something that develops over time as the need to survive changes and forces a species to adapt. As such, it can be argued that animals aren’t as ambitious or forward thinking as human beings, which would obviously also explain why we are at the top of the food change with no natural enemies… except for ourselves.
I will argue, that with the state the world is in, we are not educating our young to survive. How can we claim to do that with one hand, while the other hand is busy destroying the planet?
If education is where common sense starts, where we learn how to take care of our environment, how to effectively integrate in society, we ought to STOP all education right now and ask ourselves what in the hell we’ve been doing in our school systems to create the situation we are in right now. Because it could not have happened without education. As such, something or someone must’ve educated us to treat the planet so poorly, or rather – something or someone have NOT educated us to actually REALLY care.
It is difficult to say how far back our miseducation goes. Maybe it all went wrong with the onset of industrialization, maybe it was public schooling that did the trick or the ancient Greeks or maybe it goes all the way back to the beginning of human civilization. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that what we are doing right now is not working.
We cannot have a constant continuous progression without also taking time to do maintenance on our ‘machinery’, take time to stabilize and nurture the resources we rely on; such is the law of physics of living on a planet dependent on its Eco-systems to thrive. Instead we live in an abstract place in our minds where time and space is suspended, and we arrogantly think that we can manifest our fantasies and desires into reality without considering the consequences we impose on reality because of it.
As such, we have to look at what parts of our education of our young (that we’ve too learned from those who came before us) are causing us to be destructive rather than protective of our environment – and accordingly realign our education to prevent further damage and find solutions to the immanent matters at hand.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
There are so many educational theories, so many pedagogical and didactic philosophies and strategies for how to best educate children to become productive members of society. We want them to be educated as fast as possible, to a small a cost as possible and yet we very seldom ask ourselves WHY we are educating our children the way we do; we simply take the current models of education (or schooling rather) for granted as THE way, while in no way looking at the kind of society that it produces and how that society in turn functions as a part of the eco-system of the planet.
With the intellect and ambition we as human beings have, we ought to be the proud guardians of this planet, not its clumsy and ignorant destroyers.
We ought to honor the responsibility we have of actually being able to actively educate ourselves, not just to survive, but to progress and evolve beyond our instinctual programming.
Come on humanity; show us what you’ve got! Live up to your self-proclaimed ability to evolve beyond bestiality and rise to the occasion of proving yourself worthy as life.
Because we have been miseducated by the generations that came before us, we have a responsibility to firstly deschool ourselves and unlearn, that which makes us destructive as a species. But while we are busy doing that, we also have a responsibility to simultaneously re-educate ourselves and develop forms of education that will enable us to protect and nourish the planet and all life around us and in time, develop sustainable methods of evolution that works to the benefit of all life. That is real progress. That is real education.
Join me Monday where I will be on the panel on For The Love of Learning – Voices of the Alternative Education Movement together with Brandon Hay and Zak Slavback, hosted by Lainie Liberti. It will be one heck of a show where we will discuss life-long learning, digital learning in the 21. Century and how we as individuals can we make conscious choices to continue to grow, evolve and meet the needs of a changing world as a life long pursuit.
The show airs at 8 pm EST on Monday and for European night owls we go live at 1 am BST.
You cannot force someone to learn. You can threaten them, you can punish them, you can force them to sit still and listen (or pretend to listen), but you cannot force them to learn.
No one can be forced to learn.
Why is it then, that our entire schooling system and the strategies with which most parents raise their children are based on the very premise that children can be forced to learn?
How many of us have not experienced information being forced upon us through threats of punishment?
I am sure most of us remember times when we were children where our parents or other adults tried to force us to learn. We would make a mistake, either innocently or due to doing something we knew we shouldn’t do and they would scold us or even berate us and they would devise punishments to teach us about the consequences of our actions.
What did we learn?
We learned how to hide our mistakes, to pretend like they did not happen and we learned how to lie better to avoid that experience of being scolded, even to ourselves. We learned that when we make mistakes, our parents and other adults gets angry with us, that it is us who are wrong, that there is something wrong with us – not with the actions we took. Very seldom would parents or other adults take the time to actually support us to understand the course of actions that created the mistake in the first place and how to prevent them in the future.
Learning is something that happens on an internal level and no matter how much outside force is exerted, if the person is unwilling or unable to learn, they will not learn. They might be able to copy behaviors or become good at pretending that they’ve learned – but real learning can only happen if the person takes the information in and makes it a part of him or herself.
What does it mean to make information a part of ourselves?
When we make information a part of ourselves, we come to understand it on an intrinsic and internal level, where we integrate it as a part of who we are. We can only do that when we see a purpose with learning that information, when learning that information is relevant to us and the context we are in.
When information is being stuffed down our throats, often without reasonable explanation, how much do we actually learn?
How many of us remember even a fraction of what we learned in school or even in university? Do we not remember much more about the people, the relationships we formed than the knowledge we were supposed to integrate? Why is that?
“Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.” – Russell Ackoff
We force children to mimic us, to copy behaviors and to parrot the teacher or parent and we call that learning, but what would if we were to apply a different strategy where learning is seen as a self-directed process happening internally within the child, within which the parent or teacher more than anything stands as a facilitator?
Instead of trying to force children to learn information that is important to us, or that we believe to be relevant while they are off learning things because it matters to them (like how to navigate social hierarchies or getting skilled at playing computer games), we can decide to take on a different role in the child’s learning process.
In a real learning environment adults are no longer superior entities whose role it is to enforce authority, but who instead work with and assist the child to navigate, assess, sort and reflect on information, to discover what is meaningful to them.
Real learning requires more than the passive corporation of the child, student or participant – it requires a self-directed will to learn where the information has meaning and purpose to the one who learns it.
If we cannot force a child to learn, we also cannot take responsibility (or credit) for a child’s learning process. What we can do instead is to provide the child with an optimum environment and space for learning where information is available, where there is time and resources to delve into subjects on a deeper and more substantial level. We can assist them to make meaning of what they see, read and hear and help them to contextualize what they see, read and hear to their own lives and the life we collectively share.
There is good news and there is bad news in all of this.
The bad news is that our school systems and most parenting strategies are based on the idea that learning is something that can be forced, that children can (and even should) be intimidated into learning. This means that real learning most often happens outside of school and outside the iron grip of parenting and it means that children (and everyone else) aren’t learning a fraction of what they could be learning.
The good news is that realizing that learning cannot be forced actually gives children a point of power that we seldom realize (or admit) that they have.
This also means that we cannot decide what a child learns and more importantly, we have to admit that we never could.
It also means that there are no leaders or followers in these Hunger Games that we call schooling – and the question we must ask ourselves is whether we even need schools or teachers for that matter, if education was always in the hands of the individual, to decide and direct themselves to either learn or not?