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On the Wildness of Children — Carol Black
"When we first take children from the world and put them in an institution, they cry. It used to be on the first day of kindergarten, but now it’s at an ever earlier age, sometimes when they are only a few weeks old. "Don’t worry," the nice teacher says sweetly, "As soon as you’re gone she’ll be fine. It won’t take more than a few days. She’ll adjust." And she does. She adjusts to an indoor world of cinderblock and plastic, of fluorescent light and half-closed blinds (never mind that studies show that children don’t grow as well in fluorescent light as they do in sunlight; did we really need to be told that?) Some children grieve longer than others, gazing through the slats of the blinds at the bright world outside; some resist longer than others, tuning out the nice teacher, thwarting her when they can, refusing to sit still when she tells them to (this resistance, we are told, is a “disorder.”) But gradually, over the many years of confinement, they adjust. The cinderblock world becomes their world. They don’t know the names of the trees outside the classroom window. They don’t know the names of the birds in the trees. They don’t know if the moon is waxing or waning, if that berry is edible or poisonous, if that song is for mating or warning.

It is in this context that today’s utopian crusader proposes to teach “eco-literacy.”

A free child outdoors will learn the flat stones the crayfish hide under, the still shady pools where the big trout rest, the rocky slopes where the wild berries grow. They will learn the patterns in the waves, which tree branches will bear their weight, which twigs will catch fire, which plants have thorns. A child in school must learn what a “biome” is, and how to use logarithms to calculate biodiversity. Most of them don’t learn it, of course; most of them have no interest in learning it, and most of those who do forget it the day after the test. Our “standards” proclaim that children will understand the intricate workings of ecosystems, the principles of evolution and adaptation, but one in four will leave school not knowing the earth revolves around the sun.

A child who knows where to find wild berries will never forget this information. An “uneducated” person in the highlands of Papua New Guinea can recognize seventy species of birds by their songs. An “illiterate” shaman in the Amazon can identify hundreds of medicinal plants. An Aboriginal person from Australia carries in his memory a map of the land encoded in song that extends for a thousand miles. Our minds are evolved to contain vast amounts of information about the world that gave us birth, and to pass this information on easily from one generation to the next.

But to know the world, you have to live in the world.

My daughters, who did not go to school, would sometimes watch as groups of schoolchildren received their prescribed dose of “environmental education.” On a sunny day along a rocky coastline, a mass of fourteen-year-olds carrying clipboards wander aimlessly among the tide pools, trying not to get their shoes wet, looking at their worksheets more than at the life teeming in the clear salty water. At a trailhead in a coastal mountain range, a busload of nine-year-olds erupts carrying (and dropping) pink slips of paper describing a “treasure hunt” in which they will be asked to distinguish “items found in nature” from “items not found in nature.” (We discover several plastic objects hidden by their teachers along the trail near the parking lot; they don’t have time, of course, to walk the whole two miles to the waterfall.) By a willow wetland brimming with life, a middle-school “biodiversity” class is herded outdoors, given ten minutes to watch birds, and then told to come up with a scientific hypothesis and an experimental protocol for testing it. One of the boys proposes an experiment that involves nailing shut the beaks of wild ducks.

There is some dawning awareness these days of the insanity of raising children almost entirely indoors, but as usual our society’s response to its own insanity is to create artificial programs designed to solve our artificial problems in the most artificial way possible. We charter nonprofit organizations, sponsor conferences, design curricula and after-school programs and graphically appealing interactive websites, all of which create the truly nightmarish impression that to get your kid outside you would first need to file for 501(c)3 status, apply for a federal grant, and hire an executive director and program coordinator. We try to address what's lacking in our compulsory curriculum by making new lists of compulsions.

But the truth is we don’t know how to teach our children about nature because we ourselves were raised in the cinderblock world. We are, in the parlance of wildlife rehabilitators, unreleasable. I used to do wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and the one thing we all knew was that a young animal kept too long in a cage would not be able to survive in the wild. Often, when you open the door to the cage, it will be afraid to go out; if it does go out, it won’t know what to do. The world has become unfamiliar, an alien place. This is what we have done to our children.

This is what was done to us."

"If you thwart a child’s will too much when he is young, says Aodla Freeman, he will become uncooperative and rebellious later (sound familiar?) You find this view all over the world, in many parts of the Americas, in parts of Africa, India, Asia, Papua New Guinea. It was, of course, a great source of frustration to early missionaries in the Americas, who were stymied in their efforts to educate Indigenous children by parents who would not allow them to be beaten: “The Savages,” Jesuit missionary Paul le Jeune complained in 1633, “cannot chastise a child, nor see one chastised. How much trouble this will give us in carrying out our plans of teaching the young!”

But as Odawa elder and educator Wilfred Peltier tells us, learning -– like all human relationships –– must be based in the ethical principal of non-interference, in the right of all human beings to make their own choices, as long as they’re not interfering with anybody else. As Nishnaabeg scholar and author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson tells us, learning –– like all human relationships –– must be based in the ethical principal of consent, in the right of all human beings to be free of violence and the use of force. Simpson explains:
If children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power… This is unthinkable within Nishnaabeg intelligence.

Interestingly, the most brilliant artists and scientists in Euro-western societies tell us exactly the same thing: that it is precisely this state of open attention, curiosity, freedom, collaboration, consent, that is necessary for all true learning, discovery, creation."

"We no longer frame people as either “civilized”or “savage,” but as “educated” or “uneducated,” “developed” or “developing” (our modern terms for the same thing). But we retain the paternalistic attitudes of our forebears, toward our children and toward the “childlike” adults we find all over the world — a paternalism in which the veneer of benevolence is underpinned by the constant threat of violent force.

Control is always so seductive, at least to the "developed" ("civilized") mind. It seems so satisfying, so efficient, so effective, so potent. In the short run, in some ways, it is. But it creates a thousand kinds of blowback, from depressed rebellious children to storms surging over our coastlines to guns and bombs exploding in cities around the world."
education  unschooling  children  childhood  carolblack  attention  culture  society  learning  wildness  wild  wilderness  thoreau  ellwoodcubberley  williamtorreyharris  schooling  schools  johntaylorgatto  outdoors  natureanxiety  depression  psychology  wellness  adhd  mindfulness  suzannegaskins  openattention  miniaodlafreeman  paulejeune  wilfredpeltier  leannebetasamosakesimpson  consent  animals  zoos  nature  johannhari  brucealexander  mammals  indigenous  johnholt  petergray  work  play  howwelearn  tobyrollo  chastisement  civilization  control  kosmos  colonization  colonialism 
may 2016 by robertogreco

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