Could harmless lies make our children dumber? Here are a couple of thoughts by Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) worth reflection:
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.
It’s a great mistake, I think, to put children off with falsehoods and nonsense, when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things.
I am no authority on Anne Sullivan, but she certainly hits the nail with her head on these two points. The whole notion that children must be taught to think is at the core of socialization theories, Rousseau, Dewey, and the Tabula Rasa (blank slate—see Ibn Sīnā the Islamic Scholar) silliness that has soaked deep into the concrete floor of modern educational thought and practice.
Did you know that about 20% of children can learn to read even if you don’t teach them? Have you noticed how kids usually know more about operating the computer than their parents? Did you know that ‘sign language’ was entirely invented by the kids who used it (not the parents who first learned to use the manual alphabet with there children)?
Children need to be challenged and fed…but that doesn’t mean coddled and spoon-served pablum for their entire lifetime. Children are first and foremost learners. If you will grasp this as a ‘given’ then the entire nature of how you might teach and interact with them is transformed.
Of course, Anne Sullivan’s second point is quite telling as well. How often do we season our children with falsehoods and nonsense. Seriously, just think of some of the things we all do? Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Stork, and the Tooth Fairy are all such falsehoods. Now, before you get upset (or overly happy), please know that I see nothing wrong with pretending and playing games with our kids. Pretending, however, means everyone gets what we are playing (like a tea party without tea). We play along, but we are also in on the gag.
The Lybrand “Tooth Fairy” was kind of crazy! We never wanted to make our kids feel bizarre compared to their friends, but we also didn’t want to treat them as though they were mindless simpletons who could not think for themselves. So, our Tooth Fairy would always give a little money along with a variety of other items (jacks, small toys, a plastic lizard, etc.). They were always more interested in the stuff than the money! Also, they ‘knew’ the game, and had loads of fun getting rid of their baby teeth.
There just isn’t much of a reason to ever lie to our children…even about death, sex, and taxes. HOWEVER, you don’t have to tell them everything you know about the subject. Especially in your home, you are going to have many opportunities to clarify and expound on things (especially sex).
But why does promoting Santa and the Stork make our children dumber? Why could telling falsehoods hurt? The answer is found in Sullivan’s phrase, “when their growing powers of observation and discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things.” Teaching is in part about cultivating this desire to know though observation and discrimination. Imagine a child having a worldview built on falsehoods that don’t match reality (Santa funding all the toys and getting to every house in one evening…quite and economic & time-space-continuum issue) knocked down again and again. You may not think it is much, but we know how lives get distorted (denial) through the pain of growing up in a dysfunctional, especially alcoholic, home. Why would we ever surmise teaching our children anything other than understanding the truth of things is a good idea?
If I had time here I’d speculate on the current economic crisis and how we keep looking for Santa to save the day. Sometimes, fairly, the political world needs to be called out on there own fairytale rhetoric. A few encouraged kids could grow up to observe, discern, and offer some leadership with the jacket of Truth smartly tailored and worn well— ready for work.
In the meantime with your own children and students, please consider aiming for the truth. They are smart and know it anyway (or will find out soon) that you have been fibbing. When need a brave generation that is hard to trick. I’m guessing this training could begin at home.
P.S. By the way, we did direct our children NOT to tell their friends ‘the truth’ about various things other families practiced. It isn’t our business to straighten out other families ;-)…and it shouldn’t be yours either!
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