"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

06 June 2016


Tightly constrained by the enfeebling of a risk-averse, health-and-safety-obsessed society, many children are unable to light fires, paddle canoes, make shelters, use knives or cope with darkness.  Further, children are discouraged from acts of physical courage and this is more serious than it appears, for we learn with our bodies as well as our minds -- or rather we learn with our mind-body -- and when we see our physical selves modelling bravery, our sense of moral courage, political courage, emotional courage, or intellectual courage is heightened.

Rather than learning to trust their own judgment -- paying attention to the body's own knowledge that fire is hot, for example -- children are taught to obey the signs of authorities instead, so barriers are erected around a Guy Fawkes bonfire with notices warning "STAND BACK -- DANGER" as if children are to take their orders from signage, not from the fact that there is a blazing pyre melting their wellies.

This is about insidiously demanding that children must always seek permission for the most trivial of actions, that they must obey the commands of others at every turn.  Children today are not only being beaten into obedience but being eroded into it.  The risk-averse society creates a docility and a loss of autonomy which has a horrible political shadow.  A populace malleable.  Commandable.  Obedient.

I'm not arguing that children should be unsafe.  It's just that I think the one thing which truly makes children safe is their own competence, their own capability, their authentic skills in meeting the asymmetry, irregularity, and unpredictability of life.  How do they come by their competence?  Only by the practice of it.  Children need accidents through which they learn to avoid bigger accidents later.

Jay Griffiths, from A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World

No comments: