Thursday, April 07, 2022

"Save The Earth Green Deal"

A couple days ago, a reader objected to a post by asserting that without being made to do things they don't want to do via a system of rewards and punishments, and do them to certain standards, children would grow up to become unemployable drags on society. I'm paraphrasing here, but his view was that life is hard, humans are essentially evil, and doing things for pleasure is a potentially dangerous waste of time. Without the firm control and guidance of responsible adults, he believes, they will never acquire the skills and habits necessary to become self-sufficient. He finished by writing, "All the while complaining how hard and unfair life is while trying to purchase i-phones and 60,000 dollar cars to save the earth green deal." (I fixed the typos, but not the grammar.)

This is a widely held idea, one that goes back at least to Thomas Hobbes and his masterwork of philosophy Leviathan with it's warnings of life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" without the strong controlling hand of institutions like government, the church, and schools. Later came the Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jaques Rousseau who countered that humans are essentially good and that the function of institutions is to help us achieve our highest potential, both as individuals as well as society. It was from these thinkers that such things as modern democracy and universal education came about, but Hobbes is still clearly with us.

I share this by way of placing this reader in the mainstream of ideas. He is not an outlier. There are many who believe as he does. Indeed, when you look at how our schools tend to be set up, at the view of humankind that they embody, especially children, we see that his view may still be the predominant one. Looked at this way, school is not so much an institution designed around learning, but rather as a ritual ordeal that we expect our children to endure and overcome in order to enter the world of adulthood. It's a harsh desert they must cross or a frozen peak they must scale in order to join the rest of us in this nasty, brutish, and short life. We must, of course, use carrots and sticks because otherwise they will want to remain behind in the blissful, naiveté of childishness where they fantasize about how they can do impossible and silly things like "save the earth green deal."

If this is how one sees humanity, then it makes sense to prepare children in this way, to disabuse them of any ideas of greatness or genius lest they be disappointed and focus them instead on their own, individual achievements so that their life, at least, will be a little less nasty, brutish, and short.

Those of us who take the opposite view of humanity, and children in particular, approach learning as a way to raise ourselves as a society above the nasty, brutish, and short (an objective that, frankly, seems farther away than ever given the horrifying events unfolding in Ukraine and elsewhere). We wish not to prepare children for the world as it is, but rather to be better: to be smarter, more creative, and more compassionate; to be self-motivated and passionate; and to know that "self-sufficiency" and "bootstraps" are myths that divide rather than unite. 

We envision a future in which the hopeful, enthusiastic curiosity of childhood is never extinguished because, indeed, it will only be in this way that we can ever hope to save anything, let alone "the earth green deal."

This is not just the question of our time, but of all time. 


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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