Discover more from Tomorrow's Ancestors by Zelda Poem
Who kids really are
And how our misconceptions about them has been blocking humanity from making progress
The way we understand childhood has evolved greatly for at least the last five centuries.
And this might be the key to understanding why, today, we as a society aren’t growing as much as in the past. While we’re getting closer to the truth, on a theoretical level, of who children really are, we are far from having applied these lessons on a structural level.
In fact, we’ve been treating kids virtually the same way for more than a century. Sure, improvements have been made, such as realizing we shouldn’t beat our kids to punish them. But the core beliefs surrounding childhood? They haven’t moved evolved that much.
Where could humanity go if we gave kids a chance to become successful humans instead of setting them up for an apathetic life?
Kids throughout (Western) history
It seems difficult to draw a strong conclusion on how kids were considered before the 16th century. Philippe Ariès, a historian famous for his book Centuries of Childhood, argued that they used to be considered and treated as mini-adults. But more recently, this theory has been discredited.
For sure, the scientific revolution that began in Europe made clear that childhood was a time requiring more attention and protection than was previously thought. The philosopher John Locke was one of the most influential people pushing this new idea, along with his concept of the “tabula rasa”, meaning that we are born as a blank slate needing to be shaped by the outside world. According to him, the fact that a child would be completely shaped by their environment made the care we gave to them of utmost importance.
In the 18th century, two cultural and societal changes happened in our understanding of childhood. On one side, the Enlightenment and Romantic eras pushed forward some of our most modern ideas of childhood. One of the pioneers was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose book Emile, Or On Education describes the incredible capacities with which children are naturally gifted.
On the other side, the Industrial Revolution led to high levels of child exploitation in the workplace. The contradiction between poor children working long hours in dangerous jobs and middle/upper class children living through a time of innocence grew deeper, until laws began to be created to protect children from exploitation. These movements also led to compulsory schooling and the creation of our current education system.
As of today…
We often hear that kids are sent to schools designed with the ideal of making students “good citizens”. Whatever that means, can we really raise a successful human when we have an agenda for how we want them to behave as adults? Because this implies we must mold students a certain way, a way that could well be unnatural to them.
I believe in raising humans outside of boxes, in systems that allow children to grow into their uniqueness. Not only am I persuaded this would transform humanity on an individual level, my assumption is also that it would make collectivities such as states more successful, too.
Unfortunately, we also largely believe (consciously or not) that because kids are dependent on us, we have the right to exert power over them. The paternalism that victimizes kids in today’s society has been so normalized that we don’t even notice it anymore.
But this system of oppression finds parallels in other systems of oppression that also went unnoticed (or that were simply exploited?) in the past, such as sexism and racism.
Sayings such as “we know what’s best for them” used to be commonly asserted to justify abuse and the authoritative positions of men over women, or of white people over black people. One day, our society will probably be seen as backwards for believing this kind of discourse can still apply to children.
Here is what kids are & what the world could be
Psychological nativism makes the conjecture that we are born with inner knowledge (therefore going in the opposite direction of Locke’s tabula rasa).
This is my assumption, and I’m sure you’re likely in agreement.
It seems that kids are born morally good. When they grow up free from our projections, expectations or coercive temptations, they demonstrate a lot of empathy and emotional intelligence, along with a deep desire for connection.
Children, although needing adults’ support, are very autonomous and value having responsibilities. They love to be trusted.
For example, if you spend time on Twitter, you might have come across Lu, Simon Sarris’ baby, who keeps mind blowing us and how autonomous and responsible he is.
Children are also curious about life, and according to this famous study originally made to test creativity skills of NASA engineers, they are creative geniuses.
But as Locke believed, the environment in which children are raised has a big impact on whether or not they’ll be able to express their inner genius.
The creativity test I just quoted shows, as soon as children get into school, their creativity crashes down. Teenagers, not left with a single responsibility as it used to be the case, have at-risk behaviors to test their limits. Young adults feel overwhelmed once out of uni because they suddenly have to take big decisions while they haven’t had the opportunity to take a single one for most of their lives.
The question here is:
Why have we been trying to mold our kids to fit our world instead of designing our world to expand the inner knowledge of children?
I propose to fire the current creative director who made this decision, and start following kids’ natural wisdom. Maybe this is also a way for us, adults, to reconnect with those creative capacities that have been sleeping within us for way too long.
They need our help
Unlike women or black people who are able to lead their own revolutions very well, kids need us, adults, as active allies to transform the school system that oppresses them.
This is why the school revolution sometimes feels like it’s never going to come: we need people to remember what school and childhood was like for them. We need adults dreaming bigger, better things for their kids and the future of humanity.
Are you ready to be one of them? Here are some suggestions about where to start:
1- Take children seriously. We all have been conditioned to treat kids in a way that’s coercive and paternalist. When interacting with teens & kids, be aware of how those beliefs can create harmful dynamics in order to avoid them.
2- Be part of the conversation. My vision of the future of schooling alone doesn’t matter. We all need to think about it and make propositions that value and enrich each other. This is what Tomorrow’s School is about: you contribute by creating an artwork depicting the future of school, which gives you the opportunity to sit and think critically about it. Once you send your artwork, it is added to a participative art gallery made of people from all backgrounds, ages and nationalities. Join our workshop to learn how to make your artwork here.
3- Would you like to help someone become an adult? I am looking for people interested in giving one hour of their time every week to jump on a call with a teen I pair them with. Right now, teenagers are treated as numbers in their school database. But what they really need are trusting relationships and an ability to ask all of their questions. Become a mentor. Share your personal wisdom. Learn to listen & give advice. If interested, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org (if you have a teen interested in participating, reach out, too!)
Questions to ponder: what’s one experience in my childhood where I felt injustice, or cringe, or trauma, just because I was “treated as a kid”? What’s one idea that deeply matters to me regarding how we must build a new school system?
If you have any ideas or resources to share, if you think I’m mistaken about something or would like to add some nuance, please reach out! email@example.com - we’re all here to learn, friends!
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 Paper Belt on Fire
 Sarah Fitz-Claridge | Taking Children Seriously
 Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today & article https://anewkindofhuman.com/creative-genius-divergent-thinking-test/
 When does one become an adult?
 My generation's biggest problem