Insights on child development:
This has been a challenging time for me. My mother, 87 years of age, who had a stroke in September has brought me to think about the entire life cycle. Because she has had a left hemispheric stroke, she is unable to speak or use the right side of her body. I think about how the issues I once believed were exclusive to early childhood recur throughout our lives.
Just as in that wonderful toddler-preschool period, my mother seems to take interest in sensory experiences. I watch her hold a plastic cube with photos of family, rotate it. She holds a piece of metal, feeling its weight. She touches the bristles of a fake miniature Christmas tree, then touches the “soil” to see if it needs watering – the bristles must feel dry to her. She rubs the fingers of her left hand on a piece of linen. And as in that pre-verbal child, my brothers and I wonder what she thinks. We have found no way to communicate with her, as she won’t point to cue cards or attempt to sign.
I think to my observations of the children – how easy it seemed to get a sense of their mood, their interests – yet these remain hidden from us as we spend time with our mother. When I observed the children, I remember finding it difficult to remove myself from the equation. Seeing a new face in the classroom, they would want to talk or show me something, or otherwise regard me with interest. I have always felt a connection to children as a man in early education. I have always felt as if I have brought that extra element into the classroom – my sense of “boy”-ishness or whatever you would call it. Even in the classrooms where I attempted to “hide” unobtrusively, the five year-old girl I observed mentioned her father, motorcycles, and dead batteries. I can’t help but believe her thoughts would have drifted in another direction had I been a female observer.
Thinking back on my mother again, I reflect on how she lived alone independent, in our family home for 13 years after my father passed away. She cooked for herself, drove to the store, the post office and the doctor, took the Shuttle to the airport. Although I live only a few minutes from her, I did very few errands for her. I remember that some of my family thought that was rather “thoughtless” of me. But I remember when my father passed away, thinking that he did all the driving – and thinking that she needed to hold on to her independence to be whole. When she gave up driving not long ago, she remarked how she missed that independence. She was by nature cautious, and I believe that maintaining her independence was not easy, but was something she took some measure of satisfaction from. Watching the school-aged girl that I observed briefly wrestle with the choice between independence and acknowledgement from her teacher… watching the 5 year old work independently for a half hour effortlessly… hearing that the six year old girl would be going to stay with relatives in Japan without her mother… watching the preschoolers and toddlers take on the day, slipping into brief moments of “despair” crying for their Mommy. Rather than a continuum of developmental milestones like Erikson’s theory, our development seems to cycle, helically, as we grow, age and mature.
Insights on global awareness – on the human animal:
In my Mom’s hospital room, The Animal Planet station seemed to be an agreeable compromise station for my Mom, her “room-mate” and myself. I watched hours upon hours of animal behavior. Courting, birth, infancy, youth, adulthood, infirmity and death – penguins, cheetahs, polar bears, seals, whales, sharks. Mother cheetah and seal alike, hiding their cubs to protect them. Mother cheetah capturing her prey, then releasing it in front of her cubs to teach them to hunt and kill for their survival. Mothers, all knowing that the survival of their young depended upon their tenacity, their teaching skills, their courage – just like human parents. The joy of finding a lost cub. The desperate protection of their children when under attack. The sounds they made when they lost one of theirs. Brother cheetahs learning to hunt together. Young white shark learning to hunt alone. Fierce pit bull, calm and tame when reunited with her person. I have come to re-examine child development a bit more in terms of “animal development”. We are all doing our best to survive, making calculations that we hope will protect our families, that will ensure the survival of our lineage. When I think along these terms, I can no longer pass judgment on the behavior of families, of parents, of cultures. I am forced to reflect upon how their decisions must be a complex calculation of what is in the best interests of their clan, their pride, their troop, their pod, their community, their nation. As nations wage war, as children enter labor forces and armies, as toddlers are in the news, killed on American streets, as America has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child – it all makes sense in its own perverse way. We are all trying to survive – weighing our odds, taking our chances, knowing full well at some level the risks involved – just as the mother cheetah, her family starving, risked attacking a mature wildebeest. I am a bit heartbroken by all this, but at the same time, my biases begin to slip away, no longer useful.
Into this drive that is as old as humankind, throw in the mix of teratogenic factors, economies based upon symbols and technologies, climate change – and we are like the polar bears and beluga whales using our instinct to find shelter in a dangerous and changing world.
Reflections on the direction of the profession:
As the polar bears swim across vast distances from ice flows to land, I consider global warming, the loss of species, the “appetite” of the American animal. I know that technology drives much of this.
During this course, the question of technology was the single most “divisive” issue among all Discussion topics. A number of us were advocates for technology – for the future that is now. A number of us were unapologetic play advocates, criticizing technology. Others held positions in between, cautiously hopeful or wary. The world has changed more dramatically since the industrial revolution than perhaps during all of time before. Technology brings a factor into the equation that nature could not have accounted for. The world changes far faster than “our natures” can evolve. The human animal cannot keep pace psychosocially with the advances. I truly believe that childhood is at risk of being lost forever. All mammals play. Their play is to unite them as a family and to prepare them for adulthood. Without play, the very nature of the human family changes into something quite unnatural.
We, as child development professionals must consider this carefully. We must weigh the values of technology in the classroom with the development of a sense of community, of family, among our children. We must develop a greater sense of community among ourselves as educators.
And while it may sound melodramatic, I believe that the future of the human animal is at stake.