How Adults Fail
Article — January 5, 2017 — learning, trust
I once read a book by John Holt, called “How Children Fail”, which had an influence on my own childhood.I was in preschool for three days, and quit because I discovered that story time was mandatory. My parents and I tried homeschooling for about a month, but we didn’t really like it, so after that I mainly played video games and watched television, exactly like the adults around me. I’m immensely grateful for this.
He asks and answers his own question, in the preface:
Why do children fail?
They fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused.
They are afraid, above all else, of failing, of disappointing or displeasing the many anxious adults around them, whose limitless hopes and expectations for them hang over their heads like a cloud.
They are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities, and talents.
They are confused because most of the torrent of words that pours over them in school makes little or no sense. It often flatly contradicts other things they have been told, and hardly ever has any relation to what they really know – to the rough model of reality that they carry around in their minds.
In short: children fail because of adults.
So how do adults fail?
Today I spent two hours with a two-year-old, and I noticed that, like many two-year-olds, she was obnoxious, tyrannical, needy and impatient. Whenever I see bad behavior in children, I always have the same thought: either I need to correct my sense of what is and isn’t “bad”, or some adults are doing stupid things.
I didn’t have to look far. I was personally doing a stupid thing. Namely: childcare, or what’s called “childcare” in the culture I live in.I’ll write from the perspective of what I observe in Tamera, knowing that, in this area, Tamera is much better than what you’ll encounter in most places. But not the best. This involves monitoring one or more children, usually in a completely isolated space. If there are any adults around who aren’t exclusively engaged in childcare, then they’re most likely doing something that isn’t visually comprehensible to someone without advanced technological knowledge – working on a computer, let’s say.
Children are almost always under childcare. This means, until the age of five or six, when the adults around you start to give you a little bit of autonomy, you have almost zero contact with what anyone in your culture is doing.Except for childcare. Children do imitate childcare, when it’s excellent. Note that excellent childcare usually involves acting like a gigantic hyperactive buffoon. And whatever garbage the other children are fabricating out of thin air, for lack of anything interesting around them, anything at all, to try to imitate.
The surest sign that you live in a lousy culture is this: two-year-olds don’t try to act like twenty-year-olds.Here’s a video of a one-year-old whacking away at a corn cob with a knife, like any normal human being would. This comes from someone looking very hard for proof that hunter-gatherer cultures actually teach, in some way, and don’t just leave you completely to your own devices as soon as you can walk. This is what I observe.
There are two obvious reasons for it. One, I already named: as a two-year-old, you don’t see much of the twenty-year-olds. However, even when you do, you still don’t imitate them, because of the second reason: the twenty-year-olds are afraid, bored, and confused,You would have to be very stupid to imitate that, and I have yet to meet a sufficiently stupid two-year-old. Stupidity is a profoundly complex and difficult skill, which takes years to learn. Fortunately we’ve been developing a system of education for this, for thousands of years, and so by now most of us are already very stupid by the time we’re only four years old. just like the thirty-year-olds, fifty-year-olds, and all the way up the line.
Do you want to improve your culture’s educational system? Do you want to actually help young people to learn, in a meaningful way? Then quit focusing on them. Look at yourself. Are you proud of who you are? Does your life have meaning? Are you at home in this world?
It isn’t your job to protect and nurture the people smaller than you. Those words disguise what you’re actually doing, which is to protect the prevailing social order from the existential threat of a demographic that is more than intelligent enough to recognize the absurdity of it, and then to summarily tear it down and start anew.
You only have one job. It’s the same job everyone has: to grow up.Caroline McHugh describes the art of being yourself better than I can. This job never ends. If you share some of what you’ve learned, along the way, let that be incidental. You should be far too involved in living your life to dedicate time to teaching anyone else how they ought to live theirs.
That two-year-old had good reasons to be obnoxious. If you’re the center of attention – and there is no way to stop being the center of attention, because your very existence is the object of irrational anxiety for everyone around you – then you had better at least make yourself interesting. The adults around you are so obviously and woefully bored that you would need a heart of stone to do otherwise.
Seeing your father lying in a cushy armchair like a fat bag of grapes, wearing a dreary, exhausted expression: you have only two choices. A healthy mind is only able to feel compassion, and in this case the most primal expression of compassion is to shake the guy. Wake up, dumbass! What are you doing?! Let’s play!
But, when doing the most natural thing consistently fails to achieve the desired result – when your open heart meets silence at best, and outright violence all too often – at some point you take the second choice. You learn to be unnatural. You squash your instincts, and substitute calculated behavior. You’re ignored or punished for being who you are, so you pretend you aren’t.
Sometimes I dislike my own preachiness. Then I remember who my advice is meant for: me. That doesn’t make me like it more, but at least I know why I don’t like it.
You pretend you aren’t brilliant. You pretend you aren’t strong, or kind, or creative. You pretend you aren’t a giant, and that the fate of the world doesn’t depend on you. All the while, you’re gaining power and wisdom – because we can’t not grow up, no matter how we try – and you’re pretending it doesn’t belong to you.
And the worst of it – the really awful truth – is that all this pretending really is better than the natural intelligence we deny. Evolution only goes forward. There’s no going back to old solutions, the problem is intolerable, and the right answer doesn’t exist yet. It won’t until you make it.
As I write this, I hear a three-year-old nearby, screaming in the night as though being tortured. This is routine.
Wake up. We’re dying. If you aren’t in love with what you’re doing, here and now, you aren’t helping.