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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

What We Can Learn From How Children See The World: DAY 64

At the moment I am busy doing a newspaper project with all of my studentsfrom the 1. To the 9. Grade (ages 6 – 16). Within this project, one of the things we do is researching and investigating newspapers from all angles in terms of how newspapers are made, what they contain, why people read them and how one can write content for newspapers for oneself. The project is going to result in us creating our own newspaper with each of the children contributing content based on their individual level. 

During this process I have brought newspapers to the lessons and have gone through them with the children, discussing everything from layout to politics and celebrities. Some fascinating points have emerged from the discussions with the kids and what I find interesting within this as well is that it has particularly been the younger children who reflect a lot on what they see in the newspapers. What I have seen with the older children is that they have on one hand been ‘desensitized’ to news, meaning that for them it is already an integrated and implicit part of society/the world and so they don’t (at least not directly) question what they see to the same extent that the younger children do. They also tend to see the project more in the context of being ‘for school’ – which has the effect that they don’t engage themselves as genuinely in the project as the younger children. This is actually quite interesting in itself – however it is a topic for another blog-post.

Some of the articles that I have discussed with the children have been about war, inequality, poverty and animal abuse. To these articles there has been images, sometimes brutally depicting for example a refugee camp in South Sudan where people live on old flight staircases or a Syrian war victim covered in bandages. Fascinatingly enough the children’s reactions and responses to seeing these images tie in with what I’ve been discussing in the previous blog-posts about communicating with children. You can read the posts here if you haven’t already: 

I was somewhat apprehensive towards showing theses images to the children, not knowing how they would react. But all of them were very pragmatic about it. (I didn’t show the images to the youngest children btw). They looked at the images and reflected on them for themselves, some even read the articles to get a better understanding of what was going on. Others started asking me questions about what we were reading about. There was for example an image of child soldiers from Congo and a student asked if they had died, since I explained how they had been forced to be soldiers in a war. In fact – with all of such stories, many of the children asked what had happened to the people and whether they had died.

Then today something interesting happened. I was working with a group of 2. Grade students (7 year olds). We were working with distinguishing advertisements from actual images of real events and the children kept asking me if what they were seeing was real. We came across an image of a pig lying with piglets nursing in an industrial farming facility and the children had trouble understanding that this was real. I explained to them and showed them how this wasn’t the best situation for the pig to be in since the mother pig was virtually barred with metal bars unable to move and the piglets were walking on bars instead of an actual floor. We talked about how this was pigs being raised for farming and how they were going to get killed for food and that this kind of way of raising pigs is done to make more money. One of the students said that ‘real pigs’ have much room to roam about, can eat what they want and have fresh air. I explained to him how the pigs in the industrial farming situation also are real pigs, but that they probably don’t live the life they would want to life. Later I discussed the same image with an older child in grade 4 (10 years old). He was more interesting in the story, which was about the trouble with pigs being given antibiotics and how that affects us as human beings.

This process of looking at what is actually going on in the world with my students has been fascinating. Because I am completely new as a teacher, a lot of the time I am winging it, not exactly sure what I am doing or how the children will receive it. But this has already been very educational for me, also in terms of working with the point of introducing children to what is going on in the world. All the children showed a genuine interest in learning about the world and had no resistance or reluctance to talk about death or poverty or illness. To a great extent they would reflect on the information, but would then also look towards understanding why the problem was created in the first place and not only that. They would look for a solution.

I for example discussed a story with a 3. Grader (9 years old) about how people in Uzbekistan were forced to pick cotton in almost slave-like conditions. He already knew a lot about the topic and explained to me how some people had come up with the solution of gathering old clothes to recycle the cotton to produce new clothes instead of discarding the cotton.

Children look commonsensically at the world. And by that I mean that they for example see the common sense of how it is not okay that someone has to be forced to picking cotton and how there’s a simple practical solution of recycling the cotton that already exists. Obviously this solution doesn’t solve the situation of the cotton-pickers, but it goes to show how children are actually very solution oriented and how they are able to quickly asses the situation and reflect on it and extract the most important aspects. Some of them had slight to moderate energetic reactions of sadness and fear and I see actually how this was also something I participated within through the words I spoke about the images and articles and thus something that I as an adult and teacher could have prevented and assisted the children with moving through. But mostly they were simply seeing things for what they are:

This is not okay.

How was it created/Why is it so?

What is the solution/How can we change it?

The bottom line is that there is a lot we can learn from how children see the world. But we have to give them the space, the time, the opportunity and the vocabulary to be able to reflect and for us to actually give ourselves the opportunity to learn from them.

As adults we praise ourselves for being ‘experienced’ and ‘knowledgeable’ about the world. But a lot of what we think we know is actually lies and misconceptions. And our experiences and opinions that we think and believe are objective perspectives on the world are actually biased and personalized and in many cases indoctrinated into us through our environment and sphere of influence. So I would say that a whole new dimension of education must be opened up specifically in the context of us changing the world to a dignified and decent place to live for all living beings. 

An education where we as adults de-educate ourselves, deprogram ourselves from all the misconceptions lies and personal ‘filters’ that we have gathered throughout our life. And then to stop the process of ‘evolution’ where we simply pass on the same old flawed opinions and experiences and instead reverse the process of education – focusing on rather shedding that which isn’t beneficial. Within this we can then also re-educate ourselves through allowing the purity, simplicity, compassion and innocence that is natural within a young child’s perspective to guide us and lead the way – without letting go of the structure and expanded understanding that comes with being an adult. This I would say, is an imperative ingredient to the recipe of how to change the world.

I also recommend reading the following blogs:

Natural Learning Abilities blog series – a MUST READ! 

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