You are a unique being. There is no one in the world that is exactly like you, who has the exact skill-set or way of going about things as you do. You have a certain unique pace at which you learn the best, and you have specific ways that you learn the best, as Howard Gardner described in his book about the multiple intelligences, through which we learned that not all children learn best through books, that some actually need to put their hands on things to best learn or to move to be able to absorb information in the most optimal way.
As a unique being, you also have a unique potential, through which you can contribute something original to the world. These potentials can manifest in as many ways as there are human beings, from people inventing useful gadgets to those whose passion it is to work with and care for the elderly.
If this seems too far fetched for you or a little too esoteric, simply have a look at how each, seemingly generic grain of sand on a beach filled with billions of sand grains, is entirely unique when you see it up close in a microscope (it is actually very beautiful), or how each part of the human body has its own specialized function that it contributes to the whole organism with. Being unique is nothing special; it is in fact very natural.
When we live our unique potential, we give the best of ourselves to the world, because what we do becomes an expression of the best version of ourselves. The doctor who is truly passionate about being a doctor, does not compromise his position by taking shortcuts that compromises the patient, because he honors his work and himself as a doctor. The baker who is passionate about baking, will keep learning and perfecting how to make the best bread possible, and does it without effort, because it comes natural to him or her.
Despite knowing that no two people learn in the same way, we have created a school system where we expect all children to learn the exact same material in the exact same way, at the exact same time, in the exact same pace. In fact, all across the world, lesson plans are being standardized to an extreme degree, where school developers for example come to the conclusion that all second graders must learn the exact same mathematical material (like multiplication) or be taught about the exact same cultural or historical references (like the stone age) during the course of a term.
As most parents, teachers and students are aware, the amount of material you have to go through on your journey from kindergarten through high school is massive, and most of it is rushed through in the span of weeks or months, with little to no time to familiarize oneself with the subjects, to dive deeper into something that interests you, or to slow the process down if you struggle to keep up with the pace that is predetermined by standardized lesson plans.
Working as a teacher, I have spoken to many students who experience not only frustration over the pace set in school, but who also experience so much anxiety and stress, that panic attacks have become a normal part of school life. The students internalize their struggles when they can’t keep up, believing that there is something wrong with them, that they aren’t smart enough or disciplined enough to do what is expected of them.
I remember when a seventh grade student, a girl with aspirations towards becoming a movie director, who was busy writing a novel in the evenings after school, looked at me with panic in her eyes when she once again had to take another test, and to her, this was all school had become: taking tests and proving yourself to the teachers.
I remember asking her what they were learning about in the history lessons (the subject in which they were being tested that day), and she said something like “The Mesopotamian kingdom”, and I said “wow, that sounds interesting!” to which she replied: “no, not really.” And when I asked her why that was, she said: “I don’t really have time to learn anything about it, because the teacher is rushing us through everything, so it is difficult to keep up.”
This example perfectly illustrates how absurd our school systems have become, that proving that you have learned something is more important than actually learning. This girl was not stupid or lazy. She was ambitious and disciplined with her school work, self-driven even, but she had completely lost all confidence towards learning inside the school system, she didn’t even see it as a place of learning, but as a place of stress and panic and achievement. To her, real learning was something that happened at night when she was alone in front of her computer, learning how to use editing software, how to use camera angles, how to write storyboards and compelling characters, an education that she had created and was mastering completely on her own. Luckily for her, she had parents that supported her in her endeavors, but for many of us, our potential gets squashed and neglected under the burden that is our schooling.
Now – let’s imagine for a moment that education in this world, was set up in a completely different way:
Let’s imagine that education was organized and conducted in such a way where the focus of the educators (or let’s rather call them educational facilitators) was on each individual child’s unique potential. Let’s imagine that there were resources and structures in place that allowed for the adults in a child’s life to walk with the child, in the natural pace of that individual child, to learn and grow and develop and discover their potential.
In a world where education is centered around each individual’s unique potential, the girl I mentioned in the example before, could be supported to go to film school already at the age of thirteen, or she could at least be given a mentor or trainee ship with a film director or screen writer, to try her hand at it and see if it indeed is something she wants to dedicate herself to, not as a permanent life decision, but as that which is her passion at this moment in time, and that may turn out to be where her potential is best expressed.
It is not so that we have to be adults before we can discover or start developing our potential in life. This is yet another misconception about human nature that is fostered through the very school system that systematically squashes, not only our potential, but also our passion for learning in general.
There are plenty of children who, already when they are young, know exactly what they are passionate about and of course there are also plenty who have no idea what they are or could be passionate about, but that is no different for adults. Some of us knows exactly what we want and others have no clue whatsoever. And one of the reasons why we don’t know what we are passionate about, or what to make our purpose in life, is that we haven’t been allowed to try a lot of things in life. Mostly, we have spent the first twenty years of our lives learning how to sit still on a chair while we passively ingest knowledge that we have no idea what to do with outside the gates of school.
In a world where education is based on each individual discovering their own pace of learning, and learning how to initiate self-directed learning in the best way possible, each person is able to focus on developing their unique passion and purpose in life. Someone may have no use for math until they decide to become an architect because they realize how passionate they are about buildings and to them, math becomes a valuable tool that can support them in developing their passion, it has a practical and real value and perhaps for them, learning math at the age of sixteen or twenty is perfect timing because their brain simply wasn’t mature until that point.
There is a wonderful story about this in one of Sudbury Valley’s videos about life at their school, where a teacher explained (and I am paraphrasing here because I do not remember the exact details of the story) about a group of students who had decided to learn advanced math and who, because they were motivated from a point of self-directed will to learn, learned an entire lesson plan that would have otherwise taken students a year to learn, in three months.
If we could learn at our own pace, in the ways that work best for us on an individual level, I am sure that many people would have completely entire education and training programs by the age of eighteen and we would see potential unfold like never before, because we, already from the get-go support each child to explore the fullness of their capabilities.
Imagine for instance, who you would have been, if the adults around you had supported you to discover your potential, from an early age. Would you still be doing what you are doing now? Most likely not, because most of us end up either in totally random positions or in some predetermined life path of doing what was expected of us, without ever questioning whether this is actually where our skills and efforts comes best to use. Because of this, I have no doubt that our emergency rooms are filled with doctors who would have rather been bakers or guitarists, or that our taxicabs are filled with drivers who could have cured cancer or who would have contributed so much more to the world as lawmakers than they do as cabdrivers, had they only been given the opportunity to explore their full potential from childhood.
The bad news is that we are doing the exact same to our kids that has been done to us, and it is therefore imperative that we, as adults, reconnect with our own passion, purpose and potential so that we may stand as examples for the generations to come, and that we find ways to hack, transform and change our education systems, both in the classrooms and in the very political structures, to become systems of support and facilitation of our children’s unique potential.
The good news is that it is not to late for us as adults. We never lose that ‘fire’ inside our natural learning ability, our unique potential and ourselves. It may be but a whisper by the time we turn twenty-five and we may have forgotten that it ever existed once we hit forty, but it is there, waiting for us to embrace it, to stir the embers of the fire that once was, so that our hearts may once again (or perhaps for the first time) burn with a passion for life, for contributing with creating something meaningful and worthwhile to this planet, and to our own lives.
Joao Jesus from Life Educators and Anna Brix Thomsen from A Teacher’s Journey to Life are the hosts of a new series of live conversations on YouTube and Google + on Saturdays at 7 pm GMT. The series will feature interviews with experts and trailblazers in the education field as well as live discussions on cutting edge educational methods and philosophies – all with the purpose of redefining education to create a world that is best for all. Please join us with your questions and comments!
“I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions – a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.”
– bell hooks
Children are not allowed to partake in the democratic processes of this world, generally because they are considered incapable of addressing complex questions. When we imagine a world ruled by children, it is a world not unlike the one in The lord of the flies, a chaotic world without logical rules, regulations or boundaries, a world where the most demonic aspects of humanity are at the forefront of decision-making.
This view tells us a lot about how we see children, and why children are often discriminated and controlled in ways that only prisoners and mental patients are otherwise subjected to.
Whether we do it implicitly through institutionalized structures or with deliberate intent, we tend to believe that children must be broken down, not unlike feral horses or circus animals, to become civilized members of society.
We cannot blame ourselves; we were brought up the same way; taught that our mistakes and wrongdoings meant that there was something wrong with us, that we were ‘bad’ and ‘malignant’, when all we did was emulating what we saw adults doing.
The thing is: there is nothing that exists within children that didn’t first come from adults – and this is the very fact that we are so much in denial about that we make children scapegoats for our own demonic nature; the spite, the jealousy, the nastiness that we somehow delude ourselves into believing comes directly from them, and not possibly something that they could be learning and picking up from us.
We believe them to be incapable of making common sense decisions, we say that they lack of experience, but we fail to ask ourselves whether the decisions we make, that make up the world, are at all supportive for the purpose of sustaining this planet.
When we take the premise of our prejudice towards children out of the equation, it is becomes redundant to argue that children should not be allowed to partake in the democratic process. To put it bluntly: As adults, we are the ones making a mess of this planet and we have no idea what children could contribute with if they were allowed to – because they have never been allowed an equal voice.
So I conducted a survey among my friends where I asked them to ask their children (or any child) what they would vote for if they could vote. They could vote for anything they wanted to; causes, people you name it.
This is what they said:
8 year old: “Peace and a world without any gangsters.”
11 year old: “Equal money and that everyone has as much as Adele. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
5 year old: “Free money so I could buy all the toys I wish for.”
10 years old: “Freedom as a right for everybody to be who they are and do all they want, – without hurting anyone.”
13 year old: “No testing in animals.”
16 year old: “For all parents who don’t educate their children to be forced to.”
8 year old: “To stop bullying. To have cool technology like hover cars and teleportation devices and time machines. That everyone have equal access to these things, the more the merrier. Another thing is better jobs and careers – and that everyone needs to have a fascinating and exciting work life.”
15 year old: “One vote for equality.”
8 year old: “1. I would like everyone to have equal amount of money. 2. That everyone have a home. 3. That everyone would get enough to eat. 4. That all children go to school. 5. And everyone feel well/good.”
10 year old: “To live in a mansion.”
16 year old: “Freedom, no wars, that everyone would be equal no matter what race you come from, what color you have you would be equal to the rest. That we take care of those in need for example refugees.”
11 year old: “Chocolate and world peace!”
7 year old: “Would like to vote for Hillary because I want a girl to be president.”
9-year-old girl: “For women’s rights, for women to not be teased or abused by men”
8 years old: “No more Wars, that everyone has enough money, more much more space for animals to live. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
If these kids were allowed to vote, we would have a world with world peace, a world where everyone is supported equally, where men and women are equal, a world without bullying or abuse towards animals, a world where everyone is taken care of – and yes: plenty of chocolate and hover cars and toys and mansions for everyone.
Would it truly be so bad if children could vote? And aren’t we overestimating our own capabilities for making smart political decisions considering the current state of the world?
According to the Gapminder foundation that work to provide a fact-based world view in a world with much ignorance, children currently make up a whopping 27 % of the world’s population, almost a third of the total population of humanity. The world could therefore potentially look very different if children were allowed to vote, and according to an article on the Children’s Rights International’s website, there are plenty of arguments that speak towards that being a smart choice:
1. Children have rational thoughts and make informed choices. They often display very sophisticated decision-making abilities, for example when dealing with a bully at school or an abusive parent. Some claim young people are ignorant of political affairs, but if this is true, it is a truth that extends to many adults. Democracy requires that everyone should have a voice in making the decisions that govern their lives.
2. Children should not be prevented from making decisions simply because they might make the wrong ones. It is important not to confuse the right to do something with doing the right thing. Some argue children would cast their vote frivolously, but many adults do the same or choose not to vote at all.
3. Mistakes are learning experiences and should not be viewed as wholly negative. Children, like adults, grow through a process of trial and error. Decisions made by adults are far from infallible as evidenced by wars, nuclear weapons, global warming and many more bad judgments that have led to pain and suffering. To deny children the right to make mistakes is hypocritical. If the argument is really about competence and not age, then it is not children who should be excluded but the incompetent.
4. Setting age limits on the right to vote is relativistic and arbitrary. Limits vary from country-to-country when it comes to criminal responsibility, sexual maturity and political rights. The negative definition of children as “non-adults” is simplistic. The ages from to 18 encompass an enormous range of skills, competencies, needs and rights. A 16-year-old is likely to have more in common with a 19-year-old than a three-year-old but, according to conventional accounts, the 16 and three-year-old are equally “children”. There is no better example than that of a 17-year-old who dies in a war before even having the right to vote.
5. The exclusion of children from decision-making is unfair because they can do nothing to change the conditions that exclude them. If incompetence was the issue, the stupid could grow wise, but children can not prematurely grow old. This argument confuses particular children with children as a group.
6. The argument for the exclusion of children from decision-making is little more than ill thought through prejudice dressed up as “common sense’”.
Schools such as Sudbury Valley, the Freinet schools and other democratic schools have already with success implemented voting as an integral part of their educational environment where children are equipped with voting rights equal to adults and get to vote on things like what the school budget gets spend on and whether to hire a new teacher. From an early age children who attend these schools, not only learn that their voice and perspectives matter, but they also become familiar with democratic processes involving policy development and they are more likely to grow up being interested in, and caring about being active participants in the general democratic processes within society.
As adults we tend to overestimate our own capabilities of effectively directing the world, but at the same time we also underestimate children’s abilities to contribute and it can even be argued that their perspectives are in fact greatly missed in the political debates and debacles.
Allowing children to partake in the democratic processes of the world could be a progressive step towards world change – and it is not like the world can get much worse than what it already is. As a smart child said once: “If you can’t fix it, then at least stop breaking it.”
I for one, would like to see a world where children had an equal vote to decide what to do with the world and its resources, how to care for animals and poor people and refugees, because I am sure that they would contribute with valuable and common sense perspectives, not to mention creative and compassionate solutions to solve the problems of the world.
We could certainly benefit from seeing the world more like children sees it and I am sure that if we let them, they would gladly help us change the world – and the world would be better off for it.
A really interesting question that I will bring up in my next post is the question of why children so often bring these common sense perspectives to the table and why we as adults do not. What is it that happens in the process of growing up that causes us to loose that ability to look at the world with common sense and actually see the big picture in simplicity?
“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. “ – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
We are all, I am sure, painfully aware that the world as we know it, is in dire need of change. What most of us concerned with this issue, ask ourselves on a daily basis is: how do we reverse the damage we have done to the planet and to ourselves as humanity? Can it even be done?
Yes it can.
Consider this: Everything that exists now, from the way we build our societies to how we treat other species is the result of a process of education. Every single person that is currently alive, has in some way or another been educated or schooled by the generations that have gone before them, to carry on the traditions and habits that make the world go round.
Every dysfunctional family pattern has been passed down generations, just as all ethnocentric history lessons, are passed down year after year in classrooms all over the world. It is a generational cycle of dysfunction that keeps recycling every time a child is born.
Every single human invention that is currently raving havoc on the planet, from the military-industrial complex to war within families, is the result of faulty education; faulty because it creates detrimental consequences, and faulty because it goes against the fundamental aim of education: to teach the upcoming generations how to effectively live and stay alive in the world. That is not what we are teaching them at the moment and the current state of the world is living proof of that. Yet, we assume that the form of education that we know from schooling is the best, and the most optimal and therefore we do not question its legitimacy or monopoly when it comes to decide how our children are to be taught.
We send our kids to school assuming that this is the only option and after all, we think: “”I came out all right after my 8 or 12 or 20 years in the school system and the world is still standing”. Some even go as far as saying that we are “at the peak of human evolution”, and they celebrate the advent of formal schooling believing that its spread into mass society is a great victory for the abolition of inequality because now everyone can pursue their happiness with equal opportunity through schooling – except, they cannot. The purpose of formal public schooling is not, and has never been to give children equal opportunities, and the fact that our societies are becoming increasingly more unequal and more volatile is a stark proof of that.
Educational facilities resembling prisons, age segregated classrooms, exclusive valuation of cognitive abilities over all other human abilities, deliberate dumbing down of the masses to ensure a pliable workforce and consumer population, childism and bullying are but a few examples of how we are systematically educated to become stifled and blunted human beings. Very few of us grow up with effective adult role models who lead by example, in showing us what it means to be human in sustainable and compassionate ways.
The world wouldn’t look the way it does if our schooling had been effective, if it had taught us to care for our world and ourselves, if it had supported us to think critically and question its systems. The world looks the way it does, because bad seeds of knowledge and information for millennia of time, have been passed on as perpetual errors in the production link that increases the errors for every new edition.
To change the current course we are on, a course that, for all we know is leading us closer and closer to the brink of self-destruction, we need to re-asses what it is we are passing on through our systems of education, whether formal (like schooling) or informal (like family dynamics), that is causing us to live dysfunctionally and out of balance with the equilibrium of the earth as a whole.
We have to break the cycles of dysfunction that have been passed on for generations, and we cannot simply do that by offering our children alternative forms of education. How can we do that when our very own starting-point in life is one of dysfunction? It would only perpetuate the dysfunction in a different environment.
To save the world, we need to deschool ourselves, individually and collectively from the current schooling paradigms (that includes parenting and more informal forms of education), that we have been indoctrinated with through our own upbringing, and that we are actively passing on to new generations.
So what does it mean to deschool ourselves?
The concept of deschooling was originally coined by philosopher Ivan Illich in his book Deschooling Society, where he argued that school has an anti-educational effect on society, while we at the same time, ironically, take schooling for granted as the only correct way to educate children.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.” – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
Others, especially in the alternative education communities have embraced the concept of deschooling, and for many people who practice unschooling, deschooling is an important step, because both parents and children are indoctrinated into the schooling system, to such a degree that it can be difficult to let it go and allow for a more free approach to a child’s education.
Another proponent of deschooling is Charles Eisenstein, author of the book Sacred Economics (2011) and self-proclaimed de-growth activist. In 2008 Eisenstein organized a workshop titled Deschooling ourselves which was published on YouTube, where he lead a group into an immersion process to discover all the ways that schooling had affected and ultimately stifled their lives. This video is a great example of both the detriment of schooling as well as the importance of deschooling and Eisenstein has furthermore published a deschooling handbook titled The deschooling Convivium: Leaders handbook for those who are interested in embarking on the journey of deschooling.
Besides Ivan Illich, Charles Eisenstein and the unschooling community, not many people know of – or practice – deschooling, or they may use different terms for it, like deprogramming or hacking when it comes to subverting dysfunctional societal structures. Certain forms of therapy and personal development methods have for example incorporated the concept of ‘deprogramming’ oneself from dysfunctional thought- and behavioral patterns, to ultimately free oneself from the past and becoming a supportive member of society.
Deschooling however, must not be confused with the concept of unlearning, because ultimately, we cannot unlearn something that has already been learned. Even if one is able to free oneself from a certain behavioral pattern or belief-system, there will still be a memory of how one integrated it into oneself and accepted it as part of oneself and so it should be, if we are to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes in the future. We do not forget what has already been learned, but we can decide whether that is what we will continue to live according to, and we can learn new ways of living.
Deschooling is a deliberate deconstruction of the way we have been taught to learn and of the dysfunctional ways school itself has shaped us, as well as the deconstruction of what we have been taught; the ability to critically assess information and to, as the saying goes: “Investigate everything and keep what’s good.” – Something that isn’t taught in school.
Through a process of deschooling, we can reassess everything we have learned, as well as they way we have been taught to learn, and we can empower ourselves to decide on new ways of living, thinking and behaving.
An example could be that I, being taught in a distinct Northern European school system, have learned to see the world through a Eurocentric perspective, a perspective where European thought is the center focus and origin of all other ways of thinking.
By becoming aware of that limitation within myself (through the process of deschooling), I can actively start seeing the world in more holistic ways, by for example traveling to countries outside of Europe and through getting to know other cultures, from a perspective of curiosity and openness, rather than from a perspective of the implicit imperial superiority that I have been indoctrinated with during my school years. Worldschooling is an excellent example of that.
As a sociologist, I can read Japanese social theory or immerse myself in the works of Ibn Khaldun, a renowned Arabic thinker who (outside of Europe) is known as one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, and someone I wasn’t taught about in my years at University. I expand my horizon beyond the frame I have been taught to remain within in school.
What deschooling offers us, is a process of emancipation from institutionalized learning, which in turn gives us the opportunity to take education into our own hands. Even more so, through actively deschooling ourselves, we can begin a process of directively re-learning what it means to be a human in this world.
We can therefore, through deschooling, teach ourselves a different way of living and co-existing, a way that is sustainable and supportive for the restoration of the ecosystems of the planet, something that we are inherently dependent on and yet have forgotten in our current schooling systems. This is imperative if we are going to stand as examples for our children and break the cycles of generational dysfunction, that we carry with us as a latent virus that is unleashed onto our children, whether we like it or not.
When a computer program carries virus and raves havoc on our hard drive, we deprogram it and install a new one that is clean and functional. There is no reason we cannot do that when it comes to our education systems, let alone the world system as a whole.
It is in fact, what is required if we are to save the world.
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 %.