Childhood: Growing Up In the World Today
Aug 01, 2016 12:04AM
by Juliette Jones
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar. Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”
––William Wordsworth, “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality”
As we pass through the cycles of life, we cross many bridges––each of a different nature. Childhood can be described as a series of bridges over which we cross from infancy to a more formulated conception of life in the world. The bridges we cross and the way we cross them will largely determine the nature of our lives and, collectively, the nature of our world.
Generationally, there is a recurring theme that our world is “going to hell in a hand basket.” If you watch the news, it seems difficult to imagine otherwise. Warfare, terrorism and civil unrest are presently the dominant central themes, accompanied by climate change, environmental pollution and discrimination woes. The list goes on, but mainstream news downplays other disturbing elements of this culture including the genetic engineering crisis and proliferation of so-called technological “progress.”
Today, humanity is witnessing the fastest rate of change known in recorded history due to the influence that we, as a species, exert on our planet. We’ve passed through the mechanical–industrial age, the electronic–information age, and we are presently steeped in the quantum revolution moving forward at hyper-speed. The nature and speed of human evolution is unprecedented, creating both opportunity and disaster. We make progress in certain important ways, but at the same time, we loose critical components of healthy living.
Raising children is among the most challenging realms affected by the speed and dynamic effect of change in this modern world. Geographically and culturally, children grow up under vastly different circumstances, but change is a universal denominator. Junior Scholastic recently featured an article entitled, “Growing up in the World’s Most Dangerous Place” which featured the story of a teenager caught up in the circumstances of war-torn Syria.
This article gave a face to the extreme challenges that countless children face on a daily basis. While this situation may seem distant due to lack of proximity, other serious challenges are closer to home. A recent study made public by SNN news and published by Harvard researchers was titled, “Sarasota: One of the Worst Places to Grow Up Poor in The Country.” It seems difficult to believe that such a concept might exist in a place as affluent as Sarasota.
As a “baby-boomer,” I grew up in the fifties which, compared to a childhood in other previous generations, seems both pleasant and uncomplicated. We owned one hard-line telephone and one family car––the transition to cell phones and proliferation of computer technology had not yet arrived. With every passing decade, there is a faster cycle of change, and the transition from childhood to adulthood no longer seems that simple. I am certainly not opposed to technological advancement, but the application of technology can be problematic. Just consider how the original “magic and promise” of television has degenerated into a wasteland, dominated by intrusive advertising.
Over the course of human history, childhood has been defined and regarded according to the predilections of the era, culture and class. Since World War II, the modern West has generally been inclined to respect childhood as key to proper enculturation and lifelong development. Obviously, this is a positive step in human evolution, but must look carefully at what is currently driving the bus when it comes to the development of a child’s mind.
Today, there are powerful forces which stand in conflict, threatening aspects of human development critical to the health of children and society. On September 24, 2011, the British online publication, Daily Mail News featured an article focused on how the pressures of the modern world are eroding childhood.
Contemporary British educators, authors, neuroscientists, economists and other experts have banded together to create a program to restore proper values to childhood. “The time has come to move from awareness to action. We call on all organizations and individuals concerned about the erosion of childhood to come together to achieve the following: public information campaigns about children’s developmental needs, what constitutes quality childcare, and the dangers of a consumer screen-based lifestyle; the establishment of a genuinely play-based curriculum in nurseries and primary schools up to the age of six, free from the downward pressure of formal learning tests and targets.” They also called for initiatives to ensure that children’s outdoor play and connection to nature are encouraged and all forms of marketing directed at children up to age seven are banned.
As a person who grew up in the fifties, it’s astounding to observe generational changes in the food supply, physical and mental health, safety, education, entertainment, technology and general well-being surrounding children’s lives. Life has become much more complex and presents challenges that are unprecedented. I’m not a parent, but I have been both a teacher and co-creator of children’s educational materials––some of which became part of a program at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts.
The children growing up in the world today will determine the world of tomorrow. I hold strong views on the complex topic of teaching, teaching styles and what I see happening in contemporary education. My personal views are in alignment with Montessori and Waldorf methods––the aim of which is to educate toward the goal of a whole person. These teaching applications are not limited to skill development and the acquisition of information, but also emphasize the need for depth observation in teachers, the dangers of stressing or overloading intellectual faculties too early, development of imagination, and the importance of inner life––allowing time and space for reflection. There is also strong emphasis on the important function of play and a child’s recognition of unity with nature.
I join with many educators who are not supportive of restrictive common core standards of education and the intrusion of the federal government and corporate America into the educational system. The acquisition of knowledge is neither about rigid standardized testing application, or the ever increasing academic and intellectual rigor now being visited on young children. In fact, compelling evidence indicates these factors are damaging to healthy, holistic development.
As a society, we must rise up and question our goals for education and where we are growing. Is the goal to raise well-adjusted, thinking people with skill development and continuing interest in the world around them? Or, is it to mold cogs which fit into the competitive economic machinery that drives a dysfunctional society? If we allow the true Kingdom of Childhood to be subsumed by the commercial, technological and political pressures of the day, we will lose our most important resource for the future of this planet.