NUMBER 941 • 11 APRIL • educating
When all is said and done, the work of educators and counselors, and most assuredly care takers, makes it possible for a child to enter a conversation with the world in the form, one might suggest, of developing the child’s narrative imagination. The more one learns, the more expansive that conversation. The more a child is taught to reflect on himself, for example, the more he is able to converse, not only with himself, but with others, essentially because the narrative imagination not only allows the child to conjure a world not yet experienced but imagine the world through the eyes of another. Adulation of heroes and immense buying power yield little if anything in the realm of developing the sort of empathy inherent in the emergence of the narrative imagination. Mimicking contemporary styles and fashion have as much influence in aiding the child become morally implicated in the lives of people she will never encounter as a passion for video games legitimating unadulterated violence.
All of education, be it undertaken in a school or in the home, devolves to the work of self-development. But this work requires teachers; it doesn’t just happen on its own. Indeed, without teachers, coaches, youth workers, it is possible that many children never even confront the contents of their own rich selves. This means that they may never discover the talents and intelligences lurking in their own souls. Someone must bring it forth; merely watching others from the sidelines will never suffice. The child’s developing brain, psychologists teach us, grows increasingly more capable of complex reasoning as the years go on. Hypothetical deductions can be made by adolescents who can easily hold mutually exclusive alternatives in their minds and discuss all sides of an issue. Adolescents can readily be taught to argue vociferously for a position that, in fact, they deeply oppose. They learn that rules are not immutable, just as they learn the subtle differences between moral behavior and ethical behavior. Similarly, they are comfortable with the concept of a theory of mind. That is, they can begin to understand how another person might perceive the world, feel about it, or converse with it, even if that conversation seems peculiar or outright alien.
Left to their own devices, left uneducated or, perhaps more precisely, left unattended by parents and youth workers generally, magnificent brains go unused and, hence, unexercised. In this regard, the data on morality are awfully persuasive. Children need a moral scaffolding, constituted by adults and peers, regularly teaching or examining moral issues, in order for them to reach a point where their moral reasoning matures. The brain is ready, like the software on one’s computer. The question remains: What, if anything, is being input? Constant teaching of morality and so-called good character appears to make a significant difference in the maturation process of moral reasoning and behavior. Diversion, distraction, entertainment rarely carry the day. The moral youth, like the loving youth, is capable of profound thought and deep feeling, but someone has to bring them to that point where they not only think, but behave, in moral and loving ways.
THOMAS J. COTTLE
Cottle, T.J. (2005) On Revelation and Recognition. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work. Vol.20 pp.53-54