Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Indoor School Is Prison for Kids

Children are prisoners. We are holding them in cells through half of their days, 180 out of 365 each year. During these days they are permitted to be outdoors for 40 or 50 minutes total (“recess”, though we might just as well call it “yard”) to see the sky, feel the breeze, watch leaves shimmering on a maple tree.

Then, to further enslave them, we give them additional work that they have to do at home at night. Some parents require children to complete their homework before they can play, so whatever might have been left of the light of day is further lost. We pride ourselves on being past the days of child labor, but we’ve only shortened the work week a little bit.

Children who become resistant to this imprisonment, who cannot sit still, or cannot stop looking longingly out the window, are labeled “troublemaker”, ”learning impaired,” or “bad apple.” I know a boy who, half way through elementary school, took up leaving his classroom and hiding in the bathroom for an hour at a time. When questioned on it, he would say he had an upset stomach. After two or three months of daily escapes by him, his parents were called in to talk with school personnel. At the meeting, the boy’s parents asked, “Is it possible that school just isn’t the right place for him?” The teacher and the school psychologist peered at the parents with baffled, uncomprehending expressions. Every child belongs in school, no? The psychologist went so far as to say, “It’s okay if he’s unhappy at school.”

Her statement speaks volumes about our view of children. How could it possibly be okay for a child to be unhappy five days out of the week? I’ll tell you the answer: It’s okay because we have decided that children – that childhood itself , in fact – can be sacrificed so that we may live our “modern lifestyle,” a technologized life which requires children to be indoctrinated and drilled into the information and habits that accompany an indoor life, divorced from nature and drowning in plastic possessions.

Children in the wild spent much of their days playing with friends, and the rest working with other community members on the tasks that kept everyone fed and warm. They carried water, they ran races, they prepared for festivals. And they were almost always outside, except in the most bitterly cold weather. They were around the people they loved all the time, and always had access to other children.

We don’t notice children’s incarceration because we have become inured to our own. During our work week, most of us barely see the daytime sky. (As a headline in The Onion reports, “Autumn Colors Appreciated On Walk To Car.”) Underlying our superficial acceptance of this reality we carry a submerged, heartbreaking sadness at the loss of the world that we have been plucked out of, the Mother we have been kidnapped away from. Adults and children share similar fates.

School teachers are in no way to blame for this situation. The best of them are giving children love and helping them feel excited about what they are learning. Thank heaven for them. But the essential problem remains.

At this point in history, we wouldn’t know how to free the children. Where would they go all day long? Who would look after them? Their parents, after all, have to be working all day for bosses, mostly indoors, far from the children’s home and friends.

However, it is our job – the job of the adult world, that is – to find the solution; there’s no excuse for keeping children locked away from our beloved world for most of their childhoods; what “lifestyle” could possibly be worth it, what conveniences could possible justify it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Lost Tribe

I feel that I was born in the wrong era. I don’t want to sleep on a bed that is sitting on wood high above the earth; I belong on a mat that touches the ground. I don’t want to spend the great majority of each day, and for that matter of each week and month, far from the people I love the most. I don’t want to spend a half hour out of each day outdoors, and the rest inside away from the sky and natural light and the wind and the sounds. I was meant to live in a tribe, putting our heads together often to strategize and solve problems, watching out for each other’s well-being, accompanied most of the time, alone only by choice and not by default.

An unspoken assumption exists in the modern world that our current way of living benefits people, and that there are only a few people who don’t like it. People who dislike technology are characterized as “afraid of change,” or “old-fashioned,” or “technophobes.” Yet almost everything about how we now live is based on technologies that pollute, and that disconnect us from nature, including the entirety of electronic technology and the entirety of fossil-fuel driven technology. The so-called “clean technologies,” such as the computer industry, are among the most toxic ever; if you would like to read a blow-by-blow about what the electronics world is doing to the natural environment and public health, I encourage you to read In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander.

So I need to be perfectly clear: It isn’t that I fear technology, it’s that I hate it. Or, to be even more precise, my fear is not the fear of the unknown; it is the fear of something that has proven itself to be horrifically destructive to the quality of life, and to consciousness, and to all the plants and animals that we share the planet with.

I long for life in the wild, living as an animal, the way human beings have lived through the vast reaches of our history. Civilization, which has been disastrous, is a phenomenon of the quite recent past, meaning three or four thousand years at most (depending on what part of the world we’re talking about). On this continent, most people were still living in the wild just 250 years ago, a tiny blip in the hundred thousand years or so that our species has existed.

So I am writing today less from a political perspective and more from a personal one. My heart burns for the tribe I lost – for the tribe that was destroyed – two dozen or more generations ago back along my family tree. I have come to believe that we all carry with us this heartbreak of what happened when our particular tribes were destroyed, and this bottomless-seeming grief has been passed down to us through the generations. We are all feeling broken hearted without realizing it. We all need to grieve the tribes we once lost.

And then somehow we need to find a new tribe to which we can belong, living in love with this beautiful world.