If I were to have to label much educational material today, I’m afraid a large percentage would definitely be twaddle. How colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the little child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don’t stop there. We don’t respect the children’s thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! We ply them with endless questions, the ones WE’VE thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child’s questions bubble up with interest. We tire them with workbooks that would squeeze out the last drop of anybody’s patience. We remove interesting books and squander time on a clinical procedure called “reading skill testing,” using idiotic isolated paragraphs which nobody would dream of choosing to take home to read. The recording of testable features of a child’s taught tricks (“skills”) is held to be more important than the mysterious, exciting growth of a PERSON.
I feel profoundly sad that such things should be happening. It need not be so.
As I write, I remember the bright brown eyes of another interesting person, at present aged four. A few weeks ago she was in a small group of children listening to a straightforward biblical narration of creation, of the first persons, and of their deliberate choice to disobey God’s command. The children had been deeply attentive and interested. Suddenly the brown eyes flashed. “But [Miss] Susan, it isn’t TRUE, is it?”
How amazed and interested she was when I said that it was indeed true! People five times her age have asked the same question. I cannot see any essential difference. In both cases, it is an intelligent, basic question. Children’s minds work as ours do.
When the story was over, the children left, unselfconscious and relaxed. Two weeks later, they retold me the entire story without one word of prompting.
They had been presented with straightforward history. It interested them, just as history interests adults. They had no need for a little twaddle talk at the end, to tell them how or what to think about what they had heard.
Suppose I had been ill-advised enough to say, “Sit still, Jenny, and don’t bring up your ideas about truth right now. Today we are supposed to think about families. So we will think about mommies and daddies and that God made them so they would have a family right at the very beginning.”
What would I have been doing?
After narrating one of the great history stories of all time, I would have been reducing its breadth and interest by telling the children what I thought they should think and feel about it.
We devalue the personhood of our wonderful children. We rob their minds of proper, interesting, strong meat to nourish their growing needs. We belittle them with interests. We compete with the entertainment of TV. We flick images, flash colors, use tricks. And yet many small children are at the same time being robbed of free and happy childhood play. Endless “play-approach” lessons bore them and leave no time for imaginative REAL play in or out-of-doors.
“Johnny is hyper. Let’s sedate him.” “Why are Jenny’s eyes dulled? She doesn’t seem to take any interest in our carefully thought out talk, even though it is severely within the ‘guidelines-of-the-vocabulary-and-concepts-understood-by-the-four-year-old.’ “The idea of ‘truth’ will be talked about in junior-high Sunday school, Year 8, Day 21.”
Why do I feel so profoundly sad? Dear Lord, the little children are being smothered! They are often pinched, pushed, managed, and neglected into the bargain. They experience of beauty in God’s great outdoors is often exchanged for seeing flickering images on a screen. Adults have so often stopped giving children time priority; they are relegated to the category of “menial jobs.” Many regard them as positively horrible; they resent their intrusion into their time and pocketbooks. Dear God, where are the friends and lovers of children? Who will open up the wonderful windows onto their whole of reality and let their capable minds be stimulated? Who will accept them as they really are—as persons?
This is why I feel that this whole question is one of utmost urgency.
We have to be willing to start again.
Before we go any further, here is a challenge.
Get to know a child. It may be your own or somebody else’s. Don’t think of it as either a menial or a professional task. Do it for its own sake. I can assure you, the child will bring more to you than you can bring to him or to her. A child can be the very best friend in all the world. They are so responsive. Their minds are challenging and wonderfully surprising.
Get a few really good books, and read them together aloud. Set aside a good regular chunk of time. This will be one of the most rewarding and stimulating relationships in your life. Guess what? If you have the courage to be honest, the youngster’s comments and questions are really going to make you think, think hard. You can throw away all the manuals. That child has an awful lot to teach you. Your mind is probably in a worse state than his. After reading together, go to a really nice place outside for a couple of hours at least. Don’t rush. Turn a rock over and watch the beetles run away. Throw rocks in the stream and slide down a hill.
Talk together. You’ll find yourself enjoying it.
It isn’t all as hard as the experts make out. We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together. Together share the struggles of knowing that we cannot perfectly follow God’s law. We are fellow pilgrims. We walk side by side as human beings under love and authority of Him who made us.