Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Lost Childhood!

As a teacher in a public school system I often wonder about our society, what it values and it's impact on our children. It seems to me that too many kids today are not allowed to be children. Too many are not getting their basic life needs met. They are driven away from their basic qualities of spontaneous play and youthful vitality towards the goals of our society's desires driven largely by capitalism! Those goals seem to be to control and educate to remove unpredictability. (All text in italics are from Dark Nights of the Soul) This process can do much to inhibit the creative child not only in childhood but in adulthood as well! Thomas Moore says this about our repression of the child....

We repress the child by forcing children into religious and character building camps, by excluding them from social life, by containing them in poorly equipped and dispiriting schools, and by demanding that they grow up quickly through extra lessons and limits on play, and by surrendering them to too many au pairs and babysitters. In repressing the child, we keep the troubling human soul and specifically it's child qualities away from adult pursuits.

I remember studying Karl Marx in Philosophy class in college! I was fascinated that he wrote in the Manifesto about how he believed that man was innately creative and that capitalism and it's drive to mass produce and compete (the mechanized assembly line) would eventually be the downfall of capitalism. The man fastening the same part on the car on the assembly line over and over again would have no creative input and thus be dispirited! (Never mind that men and women would be replaced by robots.) I think, in this age of high stakes testing of our kids in schools we seem to be treating children much like a car on an assembly line. We feel that if we extend the academic day, make then all dress alike, (my school system is toying with a very strict dress code akin to a uniform) and teach them more, faster without play time they will better be able to help us compete with other countries! We even have a PACING GUIDE to make sure we teach what we need to teach fast enough to cover it all. Where is the joy in that. In fact, it seems to me that the harder we push these children whose basic needs have not been met the more they rebel and push back!

Just to emphasize where our priorities are in our capitalistic culture, the government stimulus plan includes millions and millions of dollars to bail out greedy corporations and banks while schools grapple with cuts to programs and loss of teaching positions. But no matter where each kid is in life, they had better meet those test score requirements. Oh yes, and how about all those needy kids in a school of over 750 with one school adjustment counselor. We are concerned with just the brain (well sort of) and not the heart and soul! I saw a great bumper sticker that said something like this...What if schools had all the money they needed and the air force had to have a bake sale to buy the planes they need.

Thomas Moore writes prolifically about the child and it's connection to creativity. We are coercing many children too soon into adulthood and their creative essence defined as vitality, spontaneity and joy are lost.

"Many people live in emotional darkness because they have never fully enjoyed a child spirit in their overly serious lives."

He is trying to tell us that the child plays an important , but not exclusive role in living a creative life! Perhaps Michael Jackson in the ultimate representation of the lost child struggling to come to grips with a dark night of the soul.

"...that somehow we have to resurrect the childhood spirit in a way that is fully compatible with a mature, adult life." Maybe this is what Jackson was struggling with. "He was like an old person trying too hard to look young instead of aging gracefully with youthful spirit! "

There was clearly a massive tension in Michael's life, a tension beyond our understanding because his life was always so much larger than life and probably a life long dark night! His dark night produced brilliant art and at the same time his search and suffering became an obsession. He was in a dark night trying to reconnect with his childhood but in that search he became stuck in that phase of his history rather than finding a balance that would let him fully realize his adult potential. Michael lost his battle...but many fail to realize he did fight to try to succeed. If he didn't struggle he would have never been able to produce his music and do the charitable work that did make a difference. Most of us would rather avoid conflict, while Michael lived it and yes it produced brilliant music and dance and sadly painful preoccupations. Can't we pause for a moment, put our own discomfort aside long enough to see the bigger picture!

The big picture for me is that we are creating the most distressed and disconnected generation of kids ever. I know it is a stretch to connect Jackson's life to today's' children because the stage is so much more grandiose and almost surreal but maybe Michael Jackson's legacy can be a warning to us to embrace children and our child like quality that the Zen master calls "beginners mind," the spirit of the child who is relatively free of cultural contamination. So we can embrace all of ourselves, the good, the bad....if you are going to be creative, you must live the whole story. You have to take the dark nights with the brilliant successes. You have to endure criticism and failure.

Michael sang about his Dark Night on the Cd entitled HIStory...

Tears for Fears made the best CD about childhood trauma and it is one of my favorites. As an adult child and first born child, I knew the pressure of being adult way too soon! I'll post this song for all children (and adults)!

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