Yesterday I posed the question, “Are children good or bad?” Today I want to explore how the answer shapes our teaching practice.
The way we interact with the people around us centers around this question, for the question isn’t necessarily “Are children good or bad?” but “Are people good or bad?” The way we answer this question stems from years of experiences that we have had in our past, everything from the way we were treated by our parents, our friends, and our teachers to the basic nature of our temperament. It stems from the lessons that we were taught growing up about the nature of man and how we integrated these lessons into our knowledge of the world. And as we grow and learn more about the world and the people around us, our view of people naturally changes. I know that I have a much different view of people now than I did when I was young, because I have dealt with more people in many different capacities.
Because everyone’s character is different and everyone’s experiences are different, people deal with individual people in different ways. I do not interact with my readers in the same way that I do with my boss, and I interact with my children in a completely different way than either of them. In a Brain Pickings article entitled “What is Character? Debunking the Myth of Fixed Personality”, Maria Popova quotes Philip K. Dick: “A person’s authentic nature is a series of shifting, variegated planes that establish themselves as he relates to different people; it is created by and appears within the framework of his interpersonal relationships.” I’m not sure that I agree that our authentic nature is comprised of these planes; rather, it is our shifting personality that comes out in these cases. Authentic nature is related more to our natural temperament, in my mind, because how we are with ourselves comprises our true nature.
So we come back to the question of how we view character and personality, especially in children. Anyone who has worked with children knows that no two of them are alike. I was just ruminating with a mother of two (one of them a newborn) about how different two children of the same parentage are. How we view the character of children in general will, for the most part, dictate how we handle these differences in character and personality. And how we handle these differences in character and personality will dictate how these children view and deal with people for the rest of their lives.
The importance of the question of how we view children can best be summed up this way: If we view children as “bad”, we will spend our entire teaching effort trying to make them “good,” but what is good? We have to force our own subjective view of what “good” is on the children in our class, and the children will not be able to express themselves in terms of their own unique personality and character. On top of that, we may miss out on what their unique personal experiences can bring to the classroom because we are so busy trying to make them be “good.” On the other hand, if we view children as “good,” we can allow their own personalities to shine in the classroom and become a part of the teaching process, because we recognize that every child brings their own unique personality into the classroom. When we allow all of these unique personalities to interact with each other, true learning and collaboration can take place.
*I do want to let my readers know that the subject of the nature of man is a huge, deep philosophical issue that runs deep into our beliefs about the world, and affects how we view everyone around us. It is a hard subject for me to write about because of how deep it runs into the core of our beliefs about the world we live in. Not everyone believes the same thing about the world, and not everyone believes the same thing about the nature of people. However, in this rapidly changing world we are required more and more to develop the skills necessary to network and collaborate with people around us. It is important to our teaching practice that we pass these skills on to children, and in order to do that we need to look at the issues that may keep us from doing so. This is one of those issues.