Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Grown-Up Tramples on Current Orthodoxies

It is customary, when speaking of the origins of the cult of childhood and the child-centred society, to make reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloise and to Wordsworth. Perhaps because, at least in the West, humanity had developed to such a point that it could allow itself such a luxury, the Romantic revolution insisted on the uniqueness of every human individual. By implication, it also insisted on the significance of the unique and seminal experiences of each individual during their childhood. From this developed the cult of childhood which gradually replaced the view of children that obtained before – that childhood is merely a staging post on the way to adulthood, which is what really matters.

Today we wait on the needs, desires and even whims of children in rapt and nervous attendance. Industries have been spawned to service the child-centred vision. Industries of Safeguarding and of Learning Support for those whose learning is challenged by deficiencies they might have. It seems that these matters are now the main focus in the educational world to the detriment of what used to occupy the centre ground.

At this point, and this will merely confirm what I say, I will be accused of not caring for the vulnerable and the weak and will be pilloried as such for my heartlessness. In response I will aver that, of course we need to be aware that paedophiles might, very occasionally, harm our children and that some children need help with their specific learning difficulties. However these needs are two needs among a multiplicity of needs and, when you look at all of those needs, you may discover that some are more important and larger than these two. For example, in the world of education, there is the need to instruct all children properly how to speak, read, write and manipulate their own language successfully to the highest possible level in the years they are at school so that our young people don’t arrive at University illiterate. For unacceptably large numbers of youngsters who were never sexually abused and who are without learning difficulties do just that.

Then, I may be accused of not acknowledging Wordsworth’s insights into the miraculous nature of childhood. My response is that, of course human children are miraculous, but so are human adults. Human beings are miraculous creatures. Nevertheless, they spend only 20% of their lives as children and 80% as adults and, when they reach adulthood childhood is swallowed up inside that state and quickly superseded. Things get really interesting when you grow up.

Why has this happened? Well, there is a certain type of unhappy and mal-adjusted person who buries their woes in charity work. This is because they rightly sense that if they put such activity up as a screen before the world the world will not dare to challenge it. This will be for fear of being accused of heartlessness in the face of the needy that the person in question is serving so valiantly. Society today is mal-adjusted and unhappy in its own skin because it has not successfully reached adulthood. Really being grown-up is exhilarating and challenging and requires every ounce of courage that an adult man or woman has. Our society is inadequate and hides from this challenge preferring to embrace infantilism. It places itself alongside the infants in the guise of “caring” deeply for them and loses itself in their immaturity. In this way it dodges or avoids the challenges of adulthood. It dares the true adult to risk being accused of not caring for the weak and vulnerable the moment he or she suggests something strange is going on. Thus, because the worship of childhood provides a distraction from or excuse for the avoidance of proper adult engagement with life, society continues to refuse the chalice of adulthood.

In practical terms this leaves the modern teacher, for example, fearful of challenging the embryonic worldview or the nascent feelings of their charges because these things have been accorded primacy. As a result proper teaching is hampered. The very word “teacher” implies a relationship which has now been eroded and undermined by this nonsense and, across the land so-called “learners” challenge the right of teachers to teach them. It is now a bold teacher who will insist that, precisely because he has already experienced childhood and because he has an adult perspective on the world which endows him with the knowledge of what does and does not matter in life, he has the right to teach. The very verb implies that he knows more than the children and that they should listen to him. Otherwise, what exactly is he doing in a school? Can he any more practice the robust art of leading out (as is the derivation of "educate") his pupils from foolish and silly worlds into better ones?

In our times most teachers lead a strangely conflicted life, vacillating between paying lip or real service to the whims and sensitivities of children and trying to assert their right to act out the assumption that they have something important to impart and know best. Childhood has supplanted adulthood.

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