Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teach the Children

But your child is no fool. She knows she has lice, and she knows what tomorrow is [the ELA, the statewide reading-and-writing test whose scores in this crucial year will help to determine your kid’s middle-school placement]. For her, the takeaway goes something like this: Always be kind and considerate of others, except in those cases where consideration impedes your own self-interest or convenience. Then, take care of yourself.
Ethical Parenting” Lisa Miller
This was, perhaps the most difficult lesson that I learned when I worked with children, back when I graduated college. Children aren't stupid, they aren't guileless and they understand power relationships. I'm not a parent myself, and those four-and-a-half years of working with children are one of the big reasons - I learned that I didn't have the patience to deal with childishness and lacked the stamina to watch everything that I said and did for more than 8 to 10 hours at a stretch. The children caught me swearing, once. To this day, I wonder where the energy came from that prevented it from happening more often.

At it's heart, ethics is the idea that there are more important things in life than "winning," whatever winning happens to mean in the moment. And therein lies the problem. Because sometimes winning means obtaining a new toy when you don't have the money to pay for it, and sometimes winning means having the money to afford bus fare to work, doing what's best for your child or keeping a roof over your head. And while one of society's rules may be "Follow society's rules," another of those rules is "Win at life - regardless of the rules."

The problem isn't that children will often do as the adults in their lives do, rather than as they say. The problem is that they will do what they see works. "Be the change that you wish to see in the world," has gone from nugget of wisdom to everyday aphorism to mindless cliché. But still few us do that in front of the people who matter most. Instead we teach them that there is nothing more abundant in their world than scarcity, and in a culture of scarcity, the most important thing in the world is to get whatever you can - and preferably more than everyone else around you. And we wonder at the world we've created.

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