I’ve been thinking about how much I’d love to write about how children learn and make sense of the world, how teachers can tap into exciting ways of engaging children in their sense making processes, how teachers can transform classrooms and schools into communities of knowledge producers, artists, writers, and scientists. I’d love to write about metapatterns and pattern thinking, about transcontextual systems thinking, and about how teachers and children can collaborate in changing the world.
But, then the reality of our current social contexts of hate and fear of, aggression and violence towards, and disregard and contempt for anyone or anything that is different have taken over our collective consciousness. We are seeing some of the most depraved and hideous qualities of humanity. In fact, these are the most depraved and hideous qualities of all life forms. No other life form hates. No other life form hates, even though they may experience fear. Aggression and violence among other species is not viewed as beneficial or as something to engage in on a regular basis. Aggression and violence is risky and only utilized in the direst of circumstances. And, no other life form disregards or has contempt for other life forms. We’re the sole owners of these destructive thoughts and actions.
In other species, it doesn’t usually benefit the “group” (i.e., the species) to risk too many deaths and injuries. Such actions also require too much energy. In ecosystems, energy is the monetary unit. A predator does not go around killing every possible prey, only the one it needs for food at that moment. And, if chasing down and trying to kill its prey turns out to be too risky (i.e., the prey poses a risk by fighting back too vigorously) or too strong and fast, the predator will abandon the attempt.
People are often afraid of all kinds of animals that they encounter, such as insects, spiders, mice, snakes, and even dogs. We seem to specialize in fear, even when things or situations are not particularly threatening. On a field study to a stream with my university students, a few young women came running up to me to come look at something they had found. It was a larger spider stuck on a rock surrounded by turbulent water. This was not a particularly good predicament for the spider. So, I crouched down and put out my hand at the level of the rock. After the spider crawled onto my hand, I stood up. At that moment, a young man ran away screaming, while everyone else kept asking me why I wasn’t afraid of being bitten. I explained that I posed no threat to the spider and, in fact, just saved its life. I’ve encountered all kinds of animals in the wild, including snakes, tarantulas, lizards, sharks, and insects of all kinds, and I’ve never had any problems. However, one lizard was frightened and thought that he could bite my hand and get away. Unfortunately, for him, I could hardly feel his bite, but he was pretty cute trying. I’ve also saved the life of a couple of snakes on roads. They didn’t care for being picked up, but tried their first line of defense of pooping and peeing on me. It wasn’t pleasant for me, but they did get into the safety of the woods.
So, here we are infiltrated by fear and hatred of “the other” – of anyone who is different racially, religiously, and culturally. Diversity is loathed. Yet, in the biological world, diversity is essential. Without genetic diversity, species do no survive or evolve. Without a diversity of organisms in ecosystems, ecosystems will collapse. Diversity is critical to the functioning of all kinds of living systems, including social systems. Although some cultures survived over centuries without contact with other cultures, most had contact. Trade and the exchange of information enriched the lives of the people in different cultures. As nations developed, many developed guiding principles that valued diversity. Although the U.S. Constitution expressed values in diversity, these values were originally conceived of as concerning only white men. But, as we grew, we expanded this view to include women, Native Americans, African Americans, and many other racial and cultural groups. But, now we have elected a government of neo-Nazis that do not value diversity of any kind, and only value the propagation of fear and hatred.
Many good articles have been recently written that discuss how we have come to this point. I don’t want to go over this here. I started this post by posing a dilemma about wanting to write about educational ideas, but feeling overwhelmed by the significance of our current state of ugly affairs. But, I don’t think it is an either/or situation. I think we need to address education more than ever right now. Educational action may not have an immediate effect, but it can have a huge effect down the road. In fact, we are seeing now what has happened as a result of eroding quality of education. This erosion has little to do with the quality of teachers. However, this erosion has a lot to do with the corporate and political influence over education. The push for strict standards, high stakes testing, accountability, teacher proof curriculums, and so forth has been a direct assault on what should be among the most important goals of education. We should be helping children understand and appreciate diversity of all kinds. We should be helping children learn how to work together in communities through negotiation and the sharing of control in democratic classroom communities. We should be helping children work through their own psychological and social issues in ways that lead to healthy senses of self-efficacy and social awareness. We should be helping children to develop deep, meaningful, and complex understandings of the multiplicity of systems that are affecting their lives. But, instead we have taught them how to tune out; how to jump through hoops to get through school; how to be self-indulgent. We’ve neglected the personal and social growth and development of our children. And, now we are seeing the disintegration of the very fabric of our society.
Children are not born fearing and hating others. They are born desiring relationships. They spend their initial years learning about the relationships within which they live. The fear and hatred in families is contagious. In some schools, the fear and hatred is inflamed, or just not addressed. Schools could offer a counter measure against home life and friends. And, these counter measures are what we should be talking about and implementing.