A CHILDREN’S STORY

Happy Sun warms the Earth. Right?

Happy Sun warms the Earth. Right?

Every generation starts with the same recitations. Grown-ups gather children…
    in groups…
        …in pairs…
            …or snuggled solo on cozy chairs…
and read stories in earnest tones about behaviors we want them to emulate. Teasing people for being different: bad. Sharing toys with children who don’t have them: good. Diversity, patience, perseverance, teamwork: the little rabbits all worked together to build a warren where they could live happily ever after, warm and snug from winter snows, safe from wolves, and free to be the best rabbits they could, however they pleased.

When exposed to art, kids learn about making things designed to show off. We look for bold lines and bright colors; we tell kids that it’s “beautiful”, or “cool”, and (when we’re thinking) we might even try to point out some specific detail that’s particularly attention- grabbing. Shortly thereafter the artwork often gets tossed aside.  Kids learn to use their more authentic aesthetic voices much later, often outside the bounds of formal exposure. Is it valuable in the earliest days to teach someone to walk before they learn to run? Sure, and artistic sensibilities are no different. But what we teach to our kids often runs counter to the realities of the world where they’re heading.

Don’t even get me started on sports.

Childhood depends on creative sparks. The process of invention is the process of discovery, which is another way of saying that invention often yields growth. But there’s a message here, right in front of us. What we pretend to teach to our children is often not what we actually believe as a culture.

From one perspective we could say that children should learn the hard, rough and rigorous realities of life in contemporary, watch-your-back life. Seen this way, we would not be wrong to admit that political forces rule the world; that you’re only on top as long as you can keep clamoring hands a few rungs beneath you by whatever means necessary. From this perspective, we determine that sharing and caring in pre-K classes is something that needs to fade as soon as we start competing for lead roles in school plays, soccer team captains, and social standing in the school cafeteria.

Here’s another perspective. We could determine that there’s something vital we’ve collectively given up as we strive to compartmentalize warmer, more humane lessons of youth. We could remind children as they grow up that it still matters how we treat other people, that it always matters. We could reinforce a broader sentiment for healthier collective opportunities instead of singularly focused goals designed to feather one’s own nest. We could remind people how to respect each other without diminishing one’s own pursuit of individual excellence.

The stories we tell are writ in words and images, but also in buildings and airports and economic plans and environmental movements. The stories we tell matter only if we decide they matter. When a child crawls up onto your lap and asks you to read a favorite tale, the value proposition is not only in that you’re helping shape a young person’s values. The real value is that you may be getting a chance to reinforce your own attitudes toward creative enterprises of much more adult métier.


@michaelstarobin            or            facebook.com/1auglobalmedia

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