Give a Lift to the Future
What’s our greatest resource for the future–a future that you and I will not see and cannot possibly preconceive? Nuclear technology? Solar power? Rich farmland? The abundance of the sea? Low interest rates? No, none of the above, our greatest resource is our children and grandchildren because the future of human society would not be possible without them.
They are our treasure and the legacy that we bequeath to the world. They are the ones obliged to undo all of the damage we have done to the planet and all the living things on it. To some of our descendants will fall the monumental task of dealing with and–within the realm of the possible–undoing the wrongheadedness that 2,000 years of human folly have planted in the heads and hearts of people around the world.
So, the least we can do is to arm them with the knowledge and values to affront that awesome challenge. I think it’s clear that we have to start when they’re little shavers. Conventional wisdom holds that the most formative period of a person’s life is the first five years. Finnish education experts have recently extended this phenomenon to the age of eight, and the schools they have based on this realization are the most successful in the world. What do they teach in those first eight years? Mainly they teach creative play and the art of living together harmoniously.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic come later. First, they master kindness, patience, generosity, good manners, honesty and the sanctity of life, and not just human life. Honesty is critically important. Lies are such powerful tools in the hands of the unscrupulous. It is not a coincidence that Finland has the most honest government in the world.
Please don’t be tempted to think that this create-honest-citizens approach is anywhere near the default setting in the world’s schools. They reflect the often-questionable values of their own societies, values that can be retrograde and inhumane and tend to create citizens in that mold. The Finnish model, today, can only be considered utopian.
Teachers Mold the Clay of Childhood
Insofar as excellent teachers are the key to nurturing skeptical children, they are one of the most important professional sectors in any society and should be considered–and paid–as such. Finnish standards for teachers are extremely high and their salaries are on the level with those of doctors. Most of us have had both great teachers and mediocre ones, so I won’t bore you explaining the difference. Suffice it to say that the knowledge and values that teachers plant is immortal, transferred down through generations of children destined to become adults and have children of their own. Of course, teachers, especially the great ones, need the freedom to teach, a freedom that is being curtailed regularly in the most “democratic” countries in the world. Not only that but as teachers usually don’t determine their schools’ curricula, often they don’t have the opportunity to exercise their freedom. This happens most often in schools with religious agendas. Dogma always trumps truth in these settings.
Then there’s the problem of skewed textbooks. James W. Loewen dedicates his 1995 book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, a critical review of 12 American history textbooks, with this: “Dedicated to all American history teachers who teach against their textbooks.” Loewen’s 383-page book includes an impressive 56 pages of notes and bibliography and makes a detailed, ironclad case for the fact that none of these texts for American 11th graders provides a clear and complete picture of the reality of American history. Instead, they all cherry-pick the facts necessary to portray the United States as a near Utopia while leaving out all the less savory details, and there are not a few. For example, they omit the fact that Christopher Columbus, that quintessential hero for Americans, was guilty of genocide in Haiti, enslaving and killing between a million and eight million Arawak Indians. Ten of the 12 textbooks also skim over the most scabrous events of the 1960s and 70s. Loewen quotes Vietnam war veteran, George Swiers:
If we do not speak of it, others will surely rewrite the script. Each of the body bags, all of the mass graves, will be reopened and their contents abracadabraed into a noble cause.
Give Them a Clear Head
I am fond of saying that we are all victims of the lies we were told when we were children. It’s not only what we were told–essentially old wives’ tales and false magical thinking–but, perhaps more importantly, how we were taught to think. Instead of being taught to observe, question, doubt and investigate, we were gently coerced into just believing authority, without questioning “authority’s” agenda. Once that mode of thought is inculcated in a child’s thinking it’s unlikely that he or she will ever escape from it. This directed thinking, I maintain, is the root of most of the ills of societies around the world. Although thinking directed by authority annuls the child’s intellectual freedom it does make them future “productive members of society,” always under the watchful eyes of one authority or another. This imposed priority is the basis for untold repression, lost creativity and unfulfilled lives around the world.
As I see it the two most dangerous sets of beliefs foisted on children are revealed religion and lockstep nationalism, each with its own authorities, some of which children are induced to consider God-given and therefore “infallible.” Both of these belief systems, one religious, the other political, have something in common. They’re both “faith-based.” If you have never seen God, and he has never spoken to you or touched you, the only access you have to him is the faith that has been instilled in you by kindly clergymen with terrifying agendas.
Political indoctrination follows hard on the heels of religious guidance. To believe you are superior to someone else because you were born here and they were born there is objective insanity. But if you’re taught that by figures of authority it becomes just harmless, natural nationalism. You love your country, don’t you? But that harmless nationalism soon mutates into patriotism which will give your authority figures a moral license to send you abroad to kill those “other” people whenever they deem it “necessary.” Children who have developed a critical sense and the courage of their own convictions are less vulnerable to the nationalism/patriotism ploy and less likely to be manipulated into the inhuman acts that abound around the world today.
Wellbeing Does Wonders
Besides knowledge, young people need stable, loving home relationships. That is virtually impossible in societies afflicted with unfairness and inequality. First-world countries–not only Finland–assure all their citizens a living wage, health care and free education. Any country that doesn’t do so is necessarily degrading its youth and its future. A country that converts young people into fodder for the permanent war machine and profit-making prisons is on the fast track for the dungheap of history.
You might enjoy listening to this: https://youtu.be/EkaKwXddT_I
Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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