We are so conditioned to regard the child as ”less than” adults (e.g. less tall, less intelligent, less emotionally stable etc.), that we miss something that I believe is essential to understanding not only childhood, but life itself. Yes, children lack many of the essentials for independent living in the world – that is only too obvious, and that is what learning, growing, and education is all about–helping kids learn the skills they need to adapt to the world so as to eventually become mature adults contributing to society.
But that’s only half the story. The other half complements the first half by declaring that the child is ”more than” in certain ways. We know, for example that the average three year old has twice as many brain connections as an adult and a higher brain metabolism to boot. But there is something even more mysterious about childhood that deserves our careful looking into; something that has to do with nature, creativity, vitality, spirituality, the imagination, curiosity, and wonder. In these areas, children seem to have the advantage over most adults.
You might be thinking ”that’s all very well to say as a ”feel-good” hypothetical, but where’s the solid proof?” One source of information comes from our greatest world authorities, the most creative and intelligent adults that have graced our civilization. The rest of this post consists of 12 quotations that bear out my conclusions that children possess something very important that they should not leave behind them as they grow up.
“People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” – Albert Einstein
When I was their age I could draw like Rafael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them [children].’’ – Pablo Picasso
’I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore and diverting himself and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary while the greater ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’’ – Isaac Newton
’There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.’’ – J. Robert Oppenheimer [father of the atomic bomb].
’I play with microbes. It is very pleasant to break the rules.” – Alexander Fleming [discoverer of penicillin]
‘’I should like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth, when all the world is new to it’’ – Henri Matisse
’The older you grow, the less spontaneous you will be. A child paints with passionate intensity; that’s the quality you must preserve’’ – Marc Chagall
Children are born true scientists. They spontaneously experiment and experience and re-experience again. – Buckminster Fuller [creator of the geodesic dome].
‘’What do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.’’ – Pablo Casals
“The soul is healed by being with children.”
“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”
‘A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
It’s clear then from these statements that there is something extraordinarily significant about the nature of childhood that most adults miss in their attempts to parent or teach them. If adults represent the ”what is” of culture (that is, the status quo), then children represent the ”what can be” (that is, the possibilities for the future). It’s important that adults not impose too much of their ”what is” on the child, since that just makes a carbon copy of the next generation where there is no advancement to civilization. It’s necessary for adults to dig deep into their own souls (for they were children once), and retrieve their own ”what is possible” as a model to children telling them that they don’t have to be mannequins or robots or copy cats as they advance in life.
It’s the great minds of culture (including those cited above), who model this best for us. They have not left their childhoods behind but have managed to hold on to their inner child sufficiently to integrate the wide-eyed creativity, curiosity, and imagination necessary to move culture along into new more fruitful and vital directions into the future.
What if Einstein ran our schools? What if Leo Tolstoy, Rachel Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., or Jane Goodall did? Find out in my new book: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education.
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