My daughter is at that age where I am now being dragged along to her social events. Most recently, I was attending an iftar organized by her school to give the parents an opportunity to interact. The meal was as uneventful as one could hope, followed by coffee and dessert. Then all hell broke loose. The children, having consumed their fill of food drinks and sugar (although by the grace of God no caffeine), were unleashed upon the playground.
Watching the kids interact in the playground was the first time I can say that I witnessed the embodiment of the phrase “children are our future.” (It also gave me visual aids for the story Lord of the Flies).
The children, once they ascertained that the parents would be playing the role of observers and would not be interfering, hesitantly at first, began commandeering the plastic cars scattered about the playground and promptly proceeded to form a traffic jam. Arguments ensued, and it was quite fascinating to watch children ranging in age from three to six arguing about who had the right of way; at one point things heated up and one of the children kicked a car and was subsequently chased by two of the other kids, one of whom was wielding a plastic fork.
The sense of déjà vu was intense; I bear witness to variances of this scene between two to three times daily on the streets. The similarities in behavior were uncanny; no one teaches their children how to get into an argument, and the exact angle at which to lean forward order for the spittle to splatter the current antagonist’s face for instance, yet the children replicated the arguments I witness on the street to a tee, down to the body language.
Children internalize and adopt our habits, and make them their own, and then grow with them. It becomes an iterative process, which explains why each generation seems to become a more extreme version of the preceding one; more than our words it’s our behavior that ends up forming their behavioral patterns and molding them into the adults they will become.
As if that were not enough, we do not give teachers enough credit. The teachers of the youngest classes are those who lay the foundations of our children’s attitudes towards education. They deal with extremely curious, highly energized, absorbent, minds that have no prior experience with discipline or educational patterns. The children are easily distracted, quickly bored, and require constant attention. The teachers have to compete with highly interactive forms of entertainment that are specially designed to release dopamine into their little systems, whereas the lagging syllabi and educational systems across the globe still have trouble understanding why children get bored of staring at a blackboard all day.
It is a difficult job. Transmitting ideas, embedding a desire for education and nurturing a budding thirst for knowledge in a child, is no walk in the park. Doing the same thing for a class of children is exponentially more difficult. In comparison, university professors teach students who are there of their own free will, and who understand (theoretically) the importance and the value of the education they are receiving, but they would have a far more difficult time of it if those tasked with building the educational foundation did not perform their jobs.
In the professional world, we deal with a vast array of human beings, some of whom do not grasp the basics of social interaction. Teachers of young children however deal almost exclusively with mini human beings whose grasp of social dynamics is tenuous at best, and a large part of their job description is (allegedly) is to teach them these basic social skills, so they are not allowed to walk away in a huff and hide in their office.
We, as a society, need to realize the extent of the role that these early years have on our children’s future; psychologists have gone hoarse with shouting about being careful about what we teach our children in their early developmental years, and yet we stubbornly cling on to old fashioned educational tools that limit our teachers’ ability to engage with our children.
On the macro level, we should strive to attract highly skilled, highly qualified individuals to the position of educators of our youngest, and once they are there, provide them with the opportunity to contribute to the development of the field; succeeding in educational reform will strengthen the foundations of our developmental future.
On the micro level, each one of us should adopt behavioral patterns worthy of emulation instead of repeating packaged phrases that bear no weight on how we behave, for instance repeating the axiom ‘treat others as you would wish to be treated’ shortly before cutting off someone and wishing their entire family an unhappy afterlife.
The tandem approach might just help us raise a generation that will not only be more technologically developed than us, but also more socially advanced.