It’s been a while since I last blogged here — part of the reason is that I didn’t feel I can contribute as much in the efforts to change education as the rest of my Coop friends, but part was my feeling I need to focus on my family and my own health after the crazy hours put in the making of TEDxKids@BC back in September. The time I had for myself have been burdened with lots of questions about life, my own parenting skills, the value I hope to bring up my two daughters with, the mentorship support I want to provide to the youth I am working with as part of the TEDxKids@BC team, etc. With this post I hope to ask some of those questions to my Coop friends and readers as I feel a dire need to start answering some of them before going crazy!
Last summer, I met Sir Ken Robinson in Vancouver and I asked him if he can answer a question that has been bothering me for a while: How can you learn to be free, if you’ve been brought up to be compliant throughout childhood? I was struggling with the notion that freedom (in its true idealistic form) is incompatible with any form of society we have tried to create through human history as one underlying expectation for all of them is that the people should conform to certain standards by complying to the established norms and obeying the accepted laws. Sir Ken paused thoughtfully and commented that it is an interesting question that he will need to think about and maybe write his thoughts on his website. Unfortunately I am not aware of him writing anything to answer my question yet — which may simply mean he forgot or maybe was not able to come up with an answer — but my thoughts have since evolved and now I am starting to question some core beliefs about life (at least one in which people are part of a society).
At first I thought that the incompatibility is in the core meaning of the words like established norms and accepted laws. I thought that if something is established and accepted by the older generations, then the new generations must be mould to fit the societal expectations by learning the rules and sticking to them without too much questions. I thought that our schools are a great example of one such system that has been working well to maintain the society that was shaped by the industrialization over 200 years ago.
Looking at my own daughters, I was able to make many observations about how they use imagination during play — by creating their own little worlds they actively engage in them by choosing different roles for them that let them have different experiences and learn new perspectives. I ran few experiments to see how quickly they learn when given control over a situation — when making my honest trust in their abilities visible they’ve been able to rapidly acquire new skills and their confidence levels skyrocketed beyond my imagination. I also had a chance to observe the role of emotions on building a trusting relationship between us — when acknowledging their emotions and listening or gently inquiring instead of rationalizing why they should stop crying even the worst tantrum or screaming episode would quickly dissolve and let us reflect on what upset them in the first place.
Let me pause and acknowledge that I’ve been influenced a lot by authors like Alfie Kohn and his Unconditional Parenting, Chris Mercogliano and his In Defense of Childhood, A.S. Neill and his autobiography and A Dominie’s Log. They had a profound impact on my perspective as a parent and in what I am looking for in the youth around me to understand their drives, emotions, values and expectations.
All these thoughts have brought deeper questions behind the original I asked Sir Ken about:
- Can imaginative and creative kids be free in a society built on norms and laws they didn’t participate in creating?
- Can we teach freedom? Or the only way to learn it is to live it?
- Can we honestly claim that we treat kids as equals if we rob them of their inner wildness and control everything in their developing years, including when, how and with whom to play?
- Are imaginative kids always going to be seen as attempting to stay outside the lines defined by the system?
- Aren’t we ultimately killing the wholeness of the kids when we put them into institutions to deal with their head and ignore emotions?
- Is freedom an emotion? If yes, by focusing solely on the head, are Western societies by definition non-free?
- Can modern human life be seen as existing outside society? If no then can there be room for internal spirituality and reflection?
- Can we imagine a society embracing engaged, creative, emotional citizens that are allowed to participate in shaping and reshaping the very basis of the society they are involved in without the consequence of isolation or rejection?
- Is society paradoxically incompatible at its core with the basic values of free life?
- Is morality the very essence behind this potential paradox as illustrated by Phineas and Ferb in the video below?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions — can any of you help me to get anything close to an answer for some?