Posted by: chrismaser | October 10, 2009

THE GREAT AMERICAN IRONY

The direction in which education starts a man [person] will determine his [her] future life. — Plato, “The Republic”

The great American irony is that our children do not have the First Amendment right of “free speech” because we adults neither ask them what they want us, the trustees of their future, to leave for them nor do we listen when they try to tell us. Moreover, we handicap them further by teaching them in the negative, so even if we listen to them and take seriously what they say, they can not tell us what they want—only what they don’t want. I would therefore add a second scarce resource:  namely, learning to think in the positive.

Instead of educating young people in terms of positive human values (civility; peaceful cooperation and coordination; social-environmental harmony, equality, justice, and sustainability; and how to think positively and creatively), children are being increasingly educating in the negative (to be individualistic and strongly competitive—even combative, to be acquisitive and ever-more materialistic). And by the fourth grade, most children are no longer taught how to think, but rather what to think—all the while we adults create the social-environmental problems that we expect them to solve because we are increasingly incapable of doing so.

To help illustrate this point in my 2004 book: “The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence:  Rethinking the Future,” I turned to Connie Anderson’s fourth-grade class at Harding Elementary School in Corvallis, Oregon, for the counsel of her 25 students.

FIRST I ASKED THE CHILDREN WHAT THEY WANTED

I visited Connie’s class and inquired of the children—as I have inquired of children for years—if anyone had ever asked them what they wanted their world to be like when they grew up. Although the children represented several nationalities, races, and religious backgrounds, their unified answer was a resounding “No!”  Note: I have never had a child answer “Yes” to this question!

Next, I asked them what they wanted us, the adults, to leave for them. Although the discussion was instantly lively, mostly because of a few out-going boys, the children could not answer my question because the only way they knew how to think was in the negative—to try and move away from what they did not want. For example, Grace said, “I want no wars in the world.” Trevor responded, “Not being violent.” Michael mixed the positive and the negative: “Peace, but not everybody being ‘phony.'”

The children and I then spent time both considering why it is important to focus on the positive and practicing thinking in the positive, which proved relatively easy in the present moment for most of the children, as long as they had positive reinforcement. Their overall response left me with a wonderful feeling of hope because so many of them could switch permanently to positive thinking if they were only taught that way at home, in school, and through their reading materials.

Here, at least, is one thing that could be done for the sake of our children and the future of human society—teaching children to think in the positive. Thinking in the positive is something so big that it would overarch the entire scholastic curriculum from kindergarten through the Ph.D. program. Moreover, it would fundamentally change how we treat one another, our society, and ourselves and thereby change the way we treat the world as a whole. What could human society and the world be like if children—the future leaders—were taught to think in the positive?

Prior to my second visit, the children were asked to write down the things they wanted adults to protect for them and to rank their desires in order of importance. In addition, their statements were to be written in the positive, which all but two or three of the children did. During my second visit, the children and I spent time discussing what they had written.

Virtually all the children wanted peace in the world; that was the first priority for roughly half of the class. Peace was closely followed by clean air, clean water, more trees, everyone having enough food and a home, kindness to animals, and wanting extinct animals to live again—although they were not so sure about a return of the dinosaurs. Elise hoped that “everyone is free from slavery, everyone is trustworthy.” Lauren wanted everyone to recycle, and Andrea wanted more teachers so the “homeless kids” could learn. Michael wanted more money spent on schools and education, whereas several children wanted “people to be nice to other people” and “all people to be healthy.” A few boys were primarily interested in technology, such as “watches that are computers and you can ask for anything you want to eat and get it and it’s [also] a phone.”

One thing that surprised me was the number of boys and girls who wanted what they called “hover craft.” Having no idea of what they were talking about, I asked for clarification and was promptly told what “to hover” means. Acknowledging my adult ignorance, I was informed that “hover craft” were like automobiles that neither touched the ground nor polluted, which I took to mean that we could remove some paved roads and convert the land back to wise agricultural use.

Because the discussions were largely dominated by a few bright boys, I asked Connie to have each child write an essay about what he or she wanted the world to be like when they grew up and had children of their own. Although there were incredibly bright children in Connie’s class, some with a wisdom and a farsightedness that was truly astounding, I have found that many children, especially girls, have currents that run deep and are best expressed in private on paper, hence the essays. I have also found, as I mentioned earlier, that by the time children enter the fourth grade, they are not so much being taught how to apply their imaginations through asking relevant questions and sound, critical thinking, but rather are increasingly being taught what to think.

To help get this point across, a copy of each child’s essay was given to their parents for safe keeping until its author is old enough to take responsibility for it, at which time it is to be handed over. The essay is to be opened on the day its author has their first child in order for the new parent to see if they have helped create the kind of world described in the essay—the one they wanted as a child for their child.

Unfortunately it was not feasible to have every essay published in my book, so a few were selected to illustrate that the children pretty well covered the major subjects of social-environmental sustainability—relationships, both domestic and international; personal responsibility; people’s relationship to the Earth; peace; safety; enough food for people and animals; animal well-being; more fish; recycling; cleaning the Earth; clear air and water; clean sources of energy for clean factories and manufacturing; human health and longevity; endangered species; and more trees planted in a greater variety of “types.” I did not, on purpose, correct the few misspellings in these essays because it would have stolen childhood.

AND THIS IS WHAT THEY SAID

On relationship and personal responsibility, Maryam R. wrote:

“If I got to pick what I wanted the future to be like, I would want people to be nice to other people. I want people to be nice and grateful to each other. I would also want people to be cooperative. Cooperative means to work well together. I would really like it if that would happen.

“The other thing I would want is for people to help clean up the world. The reason I would want that, is because the world is getting more and more polluted lately. Almost every year people start polluting the world more. Imagine only one person cleaning up all this garbage in the world, that would take about 100 years! My only wish is for people to start cleaning up their own garbage and to stop polluting.”

Catalina M. combined peace and relationship in her essay:

“I want peace when I have children of my own. I want people to calm down and to be friends with other people from other countries. Peace is having parties together and going to each others houses, kids playing together at school peacefully. That is what I want when I have children of my own.

“If I was in charge of the world I would do this to make it come about. I would make people friends by asking them to try to be friends. I would bring one of my friends to my other friend’s house. And introduce them to each other and then they can be friends. I could ask all my friends to come to my house and then they can be friends. I could also make people friends at school by asking everybody if they want to play with everybody.”

Ellen L. thought peace and animals went together:

“When I have children of my own I would like there to be peace everywhere. Peace is a happy quiet feeling, to be a kind, helping, caring person. And when the paper comes out in the morning it would talk about how people in different parts of this world get along. People in this world will get along so we can all live peacefully together. We should all become peaceful and caring.

“People should enjoy animals. Some animals help the environment, like slugs and snails. Animals help the air, environment, and people. Fuzzy, cuddly, warm animals like dogs, and cats, make good pets. Fish make good pets to. People and children should enjoy the animals that are still alive. We should care for and love animals.”

Michael G. and Elise E. focused on peace:

“If I got to chose one thing that I would like to see when I have children of my own it would be peace. I want my children to grow up with peace around them. If the world was all peaceful you would see everybody being kind to each other. You can sort of feel peace. That feeling is wonderful. But to have peace everybody would have to try.

“First, everybody will have to be convinced that a peaceful world is a good world. Then, we (meaning the people who want peace) could tell them (meaning the people who don’t want peace) that it will help the world a lot and everybody will want to be nice to each other. It will be hard but if everybody works hard the world just might be a peaceful place. I know that peace will make the world a better place. And that is the world I want.” Michael G.

“If there was peace when I’m older and have kids they probably won’t even know what war is. My kids will be happy because they wouldn’t worry about stuff happening. A world with peace would be like being in heaven because people will be kind. I hope even if I’m dead there would be peace. My children will be happy they wouldn’t have to worry when they go on a plane because people won’t crash it into buildings and die. It would be nice it there’s peace forever. Peace would help nature live, but it would be okay if they cut down some trees for like my children and other people to use for there house, but they should put more trees in that area.

“Peace would make people stay home with there family. You will smell a pretty smell because nature is alive. People will share other toys because peace helped them. Teenagers will be kind instead of egg some peoples houses. If there was peace, Artists will be able to draw a beautiful picture because thing like flowers and buildings won’t be recked. Kids will be happy playing on the street playing football or soccer all kinds of sports.” Elise E.

Elise C. thought safety and peace were part of each other:

“I think that there should be peace throughout the world. There should be happy families because everyone is safe. I really want the world to be safe. All people should be happy. Safe is when you are protected from dangerous things. Like if someone is in a fire thats not safe. Happy is when you are cheerful and jolly. Like if you’re having a birthday party you have an excited feeling that means you’re happy.

“I think that how we can have world peace to happen is we find all the good people gathered together. Meaning all the people that are in the world that are not perfect but they only do something bad by accident. Find all the terrorists and bad people and talk them into being good. If they disagree we will show them that they are more good than there are bad people. They will probably want to change their minds, if not, will compromise with them. There would be peace because everyone is following the Lifelong Guidelines:  Truthful, Trustworthy, Listen actively, say no putdowns and do their personal best.”

Mitra G. and Taylor R. were mainly concerned that people have enough food:

“I would like to have everybody have enough food to eat. So everybody would live longer than they are living today. We would also see more fat on other people. Everybody would know what grapes tast like. You would see people out on the streets being able to eat more food.

“We could do this by first having a fundraiser. Then after the fundraiser we would have a tow year food gathering. After that we would use the money to buy more food. Then after that we would have a fundraiser every other year. We could also teach people to grow their own food. If we did this worldwide everybody would have enogh food to eat.” Mitra G.

“What I want the world to look like when I have children. I want everyone to have food because if you don’t have food you can’t live and you probably don’t want to die. I want the earth to feel safe. I want it to smell clean and look clean. I want it to sound quiet and that the food tastes good.

“How can this come about is people working harder like to make food, cook food, try to help save endangered species, keep planting trees, and try to keep clean air. If you want to know how to know how to help then clean up garbage like at the beach, at a school in you neighborhood or at a park. You can ask your friends if they will help and you should recycle. If everyone recycled then the world would be much cleaner and easyer to move around.” Taylor R.

Kipp G. was concerned about animal well-being:

“When I have children of my own I want them to enjoy animals, study animals, and care of animals. I think we should leave animals alone. And if we do leave them alone, I think they might do something for us. Like maybe they might lead us to a berry that we don’t know of and maybe it’s an engredience to a medicine that could really help people.

“I think if we work together and we go to the president and say to him ‘we want the animals we have now and we want to stop hunters from destroying them,’ I think we could get his attention and he might do something about it, like stoping the hunters, or putting more animals on the endangered species list.”

Both Gyun-Chang N. and Lauren K. wanted clean air and pure water:

“I want the world to have more clean water and more clean air. There is lots of bad air so I want more clean air so we can breathe better air. I want more clean water because them we can have more clean water for the animals and people. If we have more clean water there will be more fish. If there is more clean air people can breathe easier.

“It there is more clean air people will be healthier in the future because they will be breathing healther air. I wish there were hovercrafts that go as fast as cars. If there was hovercrafts that go as fast as car there will be less more gas. If there are more clean water there will be twice as much than right now. If there is more clean water people won’t have to drink dirty water.” Gyun-Chang N.

“When I have children I want the world to have clean air and clean water. The air and water would be poision free. In the cities, people would have clean air in their face, no masks. The air taste good and smell good and the water would be clear and taste sweet. The plants would get a lot of clear water in the cities.

“You could get this to happen by saying that you have to recycle almost everything. People could take all of the cans and trash out of the rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Another way would be to filter oil and pollution out of all polluted bodies of water. A way to get the air clean would be to have all factory workers to figure out a way to run the factory using some other fuel, like solar power or a battery. People could try to transport air from the farm lands to the cities, then take the air somewhere that is in space. If people did this, we would have a very clean earth.” Lauren K.

Finally, Sebastian L. wanted more trees in the world:

“When I grow up I want the world to have a lot of trees. I want the world to smell like Pine and Beech and like all the other many types of trees. When you look around all that you will see is a whole bunch of trees. When you listen carfully you will hear little chattering squirrels and birds and you will even hear the splashing. You will touch all different types of bark and sap. I really think that we can get more trees if we try.

“I know that we can get more trees planted but only if we try. It can come about if we start cleaning and start helping mother nature. We can recycle. I know that for every tree we cut down five more are planted in it’s place but they are all the same type! one of my classmates said that if we keep planting the same type of tree and a disease comes around all the trees will die. I think that it’s a great idea to plant more trees because some are becoming extinct. We can save them if we try.”

Mulling over what I learned from the children, it was clear that the unspoken foundation of their thinking was other-centered. They were primarily concerned with the welfare of others and their home planet, which, in a practical sense, is in their own best interest and that of their children in the future.

Here, we adults must ask ourselves if anything the children want is unreasonable, immoral, unethical, impossible to do, or anything more than a choice of how we personally think and behave? If it is possible to fulfill the children’s requests, why are so few adults willing to become other-centered and positive in their thinking? Are we so jaded in our view of life that we are no longer capable of a child’s wisdom, or is it simply that we choose not to make the effort required to be kind and thoughtful?

THEN I ASKED THEIR TEACHER WHAT SHE HAD LEARNED

Having heard from the children, I asked Connie to share what she had learned from the above exercise:

“I thought it was fine when Chris requested permission to come to my classroom and ask my fourth grade students the following question as a closing part of this book: “What would you want the world to be like when you’re grown up and have children of your own?” When he asked if I would have them write an essay on this subject, I said “Yes” because it would be a different kind of writing assignment, something I’d never thought to have them write about.

“After Chris came and talked with them, I had my students write a list of things they would like to see in the world when they are older. When we shared these lists with one another in class, many ideas were stated in the negative. With a little coaching, the children rewrote sentences such as, “There shouldn’t be any wars,” to say, “There should be peace all over the world.” After making a list of positively stated items, I felt my students were ready to write their essays on what they wanted the world be like when they had children of their own.

“I was, however, surprised by a number of the essays. Instead of describing a perfect world, many of the students had written persuasive essays on why there should be no war, no polluted rivers, and/or no dirty air. This turned out to be a much harder essay for them to write than I had originally thought. I found, as I talked with them, that they could not see the world as a perfect place. They already had rigid mind-sets as to why things cannot change. By 9 and 10 years of age, we adults have already tainted our children’s outlook on life to the point that most cannot view the world through a child’s eye and see hope.

“Since the completion of this exercise, I have been questioning what we are doing to our children. Have we done them a disservice by introducing them to adult problems at such a young age? After all, we adults have created the problems, yet can’t seem to fix them. Why, therefore, should we pass these problems forward to the children and expect them to fix what we cannot?

“Maybe we should concentrate on raising our children in a positive atmosphere for as long as possible. Then, when they are older and problems arise, they will have beginner’s minds and can see what might be done instead of having to wade through the pre-determined, negative mind blocks of their predecessors—us—who created the problems in the first place. Or better yet, why not ask ourselves how we must behave to avoid creating such problems as polluted water and air, and then actually be responsible for our own behavior?

“Might this work? I have no idea. What we have been doing for years and years has not been working; so why not try something really new, such as being positive and teaching our children in the positive?”

Of course, this means that the books our children read, both in and out of school, must be written in the positive if our children are to learn how to think and live in the positive. But then to write books in the positive, we adults must ourselves learn how to think and behave in the positive—a worthy challenge for the 21st century.

To this end, Gaylord Nelson, the Senator from Wisconsin, said: ” The ultimate test of human conscience may be the willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” And what is the greatest sacrifice we adults can make? The answer is simple—to forego the notion of our adult superiority over children and give them an active voice in decisions that will affect their future. After all, every decision we make—for good or ill—becomes a consequence to which we commit all generations.


 

Related Posts:

• Children Deserve A Voice In Their Future

• How The Use Of Language Teaches Children They Are Inferior

• Children Deserve A Voice In Their Future

• Changing Our Adult Thinking

• Giving Children Their Rightful Voice—A Democratic Revolution
 


© Chris Maser, 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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