Friday, June 27, 2014

The value of a child's time

A page from "Your Fantastic Elastic Brain" by Deak & Ackerley
Whether we like to admit it or not, the time of a child is most often assigned negative value. 

So, why is a child's time valuable?  A child is both an investment in our future and a way of giving back some of love and care that we received growing up.  When they learn something, they often do it at a deeper level than we do. This is because the neuroplasticity of the brain, which describes our ability to retain new information and use it to shape our brain, goes down with age. So, what we teach our children now, should have more impact on their development than a lot of what they will learn latter as adults.

1. Re-learn to put children first. The family (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts) is where each child used to receive unconditional love, and it's unclear that there is a substitute for having a loving family.

Note: The love given is not related to the number of pictures or likes to the pictures posted on facebook or to the number of toys given. However, there is some correlation to the time we spend with our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

2. Remember what we received. We should not forget that we have all (or at least most of us) received a lot love and attention to get us where we are today. Raising a child involves giving some of that love and attention back.  If we chose not to raise any children (adopted or our own), we leave a void that is hard to fill. Somehow women seem to feel that void more than men especially in their 30s. 

3. Children learn from many people. Yes, teachers play a very important role, but they often interact with 20+ children a day, and cannot afford to shower too much attention on any one child. So, it's also important to learn from grandparents and extended family from time to time, and even family friends.  Friends are too often replaced by colleagues, who do not have children of their own and are distant and too busy. 

4. Sharing and loving comes with soul growth, and so it's very good for us, too and not just for the people we love. Yes, parenting is hard, but it involves a lot of sharing of what we know and who we are and makes us feel fulfilled (and overwhelmed at times).

5. What should children learn in School?  Schools are not there to keep children out of our way so that parents can work, but to teach them new and exciting things. They should also be flexible and allow a small amount of absences outside vacations as long as they come with some additional learning. When I hear that the purpose of the first year and a half of primary school is mostly discipline with a little practice on reading and writing, I am not too excited. I think the primary focus should be on the new things learned, and, yes, reading and writing are important, but it's perhaps equally important to learn how to think, and how to have fun, and to encourage the building of dreams and aspirations.

6. Improve the local educational system. Schools need teachers who can make learning fun, but are also paid well, and their profession has to be coveted, respected and valued. As the birth rate decreases and the standards of living go up around the world, fewer people will want to leave their families to move to the US or to Europe, and no matter how hard we try to stop progress in countries other than ours, it is bound to happen everywhere due to the flow of information. So, we can no longer afford to have a crappy educational systems - even in poor areas. Some of those children will excel if properly educated and supported. This is a good article in the NY times about a successful approach to improving the chances of college graduation for first generation college students. 

7. We should never take a 'them' vs. 'us' approach. Improving the educational system should not be viewed as taking resources away from 'us' and from 'our children' and giving these resources away to 'them' - these obscure classes of people whom we do not care about. Changes done right lead to long term improvements in the economy. Once the economy grows, everyone gains - the rich and the poor (although former class always gains more than the latter). 

8. Education always starts at home. As a parent/grandparent/etc, it is crucial to love each child, value its time, and if at all possible make sure the school they go to does the same. 

9. Better school, more diversity. If our school systems improve, more people with diverse backgrounds should pass through, and this invariably will include women, black people, etc.

10. Educating women. Just telling women to join the science may help in a few cases, but will not solve the paucity problem. Women educate the next generation together with the men, but we will always do more from the birth to the pregnancy to the breastfeeding and so educating women should be a priority in all countries if we want an educated next generation. 

11. Replace people with robots. We won't need to educate them then.

I don't think robots or enslaving other planets are an alternative path to better education. At least, not yet.  To reach any planets that could be habitable we would need to travel close to the speed of light, and that is well out of reach of modern technology. Furthermore, space travel is expensive.

12. Bad neighbourhoods - bad schools? The segregation should stop. Having some good schools that all the children can attend is crucial.  Even as we automate more and more things, we still need the existent population to be educated and to have emotional availability so that we can be safe and happy.  I believe in the selection and encouragement of talent. Every city area should have at least one good school where talented children can learn things vs. learn to do/sell drugs and being bullied for being talented, and where any child who is talented enough can go. 

13.  Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. We should respect all non-abusive parents and try not to judge because there are many approaches that work and many forms of love. 

Disclaimer:  In retrospective most of what I say here may seem obvious. If my statements sound like platitudes, it may be because they are, but I still felt the need to write them down. Also, keep in mind that my writing stems from my own experience, which is not very broad. I have lived in several countries, but only among people who valued education whether they actually had it themselves or not. I only have on child so far and one nephew I spend significant time with.  I try to do the best I can. I do not aim to be the ideal role model for any person or even the ideal parent. 

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