In a historical moment on the verse of a escalation of military confrontations in different parts of the world, I have been trying to come to solutions to prevent future violent events and to promote peace in the world.
This is not an easy task, since is not only our vision of the world falling apart, but also actually seeing these circumstances as a possibility to build a new moral base for generations to come. Though it is wide known that learning happens in a long life perspective, it takes another article to explain how we can become critical adults with a common goal: making the world a peaceful place to live. In this article the focus are children. Our future.
“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
— Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist
Outdated school system
The school system as we know in Western countries started at the beginning of the 19th century with a compulsory education system which main goal was to fight illiteracy and promote education for all. The idea behind is absolutely noble, though the system in itself has developed into a big fabrication machine that does not have space to own thinking and critical approach based on children’s experiences. Indeed, our system has become a big fabric of citizens that eventually has to be a part of the bigger engine to produce and serve without asking questions.
Though there are many voices against this totalitarian system, we must remember that teachers, parents, pedagogues and we have the power to change this trend in practice. As Maria Montessori said “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” This is exactly the goal we should we working for. How can we get there?
Filling vs unfolding
Our educational plans are full of goals, smaller goals, skills, knowledge and tons of evaluation though testing. We have to make sure that our children learn everything they are supposed to, though we try to fill their heads with information that children are completely capable of finding themselves if the convenient tools are shown how to be used.
All the information we try to fill their heads with prevent children to retain the important tools that are useful in life. Using all our hours in the classrooms memorizing concrete details without a context through fragmented information instead of lightning a fire. Most of the children get bored and demotivated, they find no meaning in what they see and hear.
What would happen if children could choose what to learn while adults can help them giving them tools to how to get to knowledge and information? Politicians, economists and other rulemaking people choose consciously not to set education plans where children learn how to think. Then again, we can turn this situation around, remembering
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lightning of a fire”
- B. Yates, Irish poet and playwright
What does it take to unfold children’s potential? Openness between teachers and children, trust in teacher’s pedagogical capacity and, nevertheless, that we stay in touch with our own nature as human beings using our bodies outside in the wild. You might think that this is far from our technological-based every day, but I really know that digital skills can be developed hand in hand with critical reflection and thinking. Instead of giving children processed fast-information we can teach them how to find information, being critical to sources and motivating them to analyze situations and texts to build their own opinions. One step further is actually to teach them how to dialogue with other people basing on their right to expression to respect one another and the right to disagree without further consequences.
I understand that this seems like an utopia if we try to incorporate this model in our educational system, but perhaps this is a sign that we need to start all over again. We are trying to direct a dinosaur when we already have self-driving cars.
Critical empathic curious children
Children are curious by nature. Sadly enough we lose the capacity of feeling excitement for everything new around us while we grow and we get in touch with educational institutions. We are taught to be careful, not to touch and not to make a mess.
This approach happens first at home, so by the time children start at school begins the unnatural process of sitting for hours, learning about nature through books and measuring learning through grades.
We aim to prepare them for the world we have created, forgetting completely that children deserve to create their own world using of course the tools we have gathered for centuries. Children have the right to use these tools in creative and peaceful ways, because knowledge is the only heritage we can share with them. Preparing their minds and hearts, we can make sure that they use their creativity and empathy to build a better world.
So, what can we as adults do to respect children’s right and at the same time motivate them to have their own opinions? Here are some suggestions to start with….
- Listen to children. They can be your own children, maybe your neighbours’ or in your class. Listen to what they have to say, ask them questions, show them that their opinions matters through your actions being present. You are a role model to dialogue and openness, listening to children is teaching them respect and patience. Respecting their opinions and showing love in difficult situations teaches children peaceful strategies while caring for their self-esteems.
- Put feelings into words. Every day we get into situations that triggers feelings of different kind. Talking with children about these feelings help them being in contact with themselves while they develop empathy towards other people’s feelings. We are all human and either gender or age makes any different when it comes to our emotional inner life. As an adult, you can explain your children that a certain situation makes you sad or that something another person did made you angry. Learning to talk about it show children that feelings are there to be expressed and that they have the right to have them too. When a child behaves in a way that frustrates us, we can say it with words, but actually not punishing them in any way, either emotionally, physically or verbally for thinking differently to us adults.
- Limit screen time, go out to nature. It is undeniable that is a skill to teach children to be critical with digital tools and digital information. At the same time, in order to learn better children (and adults) need to use our bodies to help our brain’s plasticity. So take a nice walk to a park, have a common gardening project or sleep outdoors in the beach. Taking care of nature will teach children how to take care for the environment. Responsibility develops when we feel part of a bigger system, and we are undeniably a part of an ecological system.
- Alone time. In an overstimulated environment is easy for us to lose our inner voices. Both adults and children need to be alone from time to time to feel the freedom of choosing their own activities or just for being on their own. Being alone gives us the opportunity to reflect and get in better touch with our own feelings as well as thoughts, giving us the opportunity to grow and find balance within ourselves.
A new school system is possible; we just need to change it
In our political systems have we adopted as a norm that politicians we have voted can make decisions for us without getting any feedback.
In order of making the world a better place through dialog, adults must expect and demand changes for our children’s sake. Engaging in local decisions might be the first step, enjoying community activities and starting making changes at home can be the change we want to see in the world.
Because our children and future communities deserve a world in peace and unity.