by Thurman E. Scott
We live in a time of broken form. The tradition of family life is broken. Children frequently grow up in a broken family structure. I created The Young Peoples Creative Workshop to teach children some guidelines for living through the techniques of acting and writing.
There is no guarantee for success in our society today. Our school systems fail to educate. Reports on education routinely conclude that individual youths must commit to their own success. Society is not committed to the success of our young people. Role models give young people an image for them to strive to attain. More important than striving toward a role model, however, is the fact that each child today must make their own individual development their primary focus in life. A child that maintains this focus will go a long way toward creating a positive action for him or her self.
I believe that parents and teachers have the primary responsibility in the individual development of the children in their care. But here we must deal with the increasing demands and pressures of our economy, the breakdown and dysfunction of family life, and the difficulties and stresses in the daily lives of so many individuals today. In many households, divorce has fractured family life. In single-parent homes, a parent may not have the luxury of being present to counsel, give advice to, and develop discipline in his or her children. The resulting neglect is only one of the tragic outcomes of economic pressures felt at nearly all income levels. Pressure can create desperation. Desperation can create abuse of the self and of others. Today, painful evidence abounds of rising abuse in all forms.
When I look around me today, I see a society with a prevailing sense of uncertainty about the future. This uncertainty produces fear which consciously or unconsciously justifies an atmosphere of neglect of our children. In the media I hear and see ongoing debates centered around the irresponsibility of children and, in the case of our black young men, presumed culpability.
I do not find children to be irresponsible today. I find them to be inquisitive. I find them to be intellectually and politically aware. Children today are very often faced with survival issues. They struggle alongside their mothers and fathers to make ends meet. They struggle to maintain the family home and to care for their siblings while parents are away at work. Children today very often find themselves in the position of trying to provide emotional support to a divorced, abandoned, over-stressed or addicted parent; support they have every right to expect but rarely receive from their parent. Children often tell me that they have to beg their teachers to teach them the things they need to know. In many of our communities they see friends, neighbors, and family struggle with joblessness, homelessness, abuse, crime and drugs.
These struggles have produced a high level of political, social, philosophic and spiritual awareness in children today. I know this because I regularly make contact with children, entering into creative process with them, discussing and investigating together the issues of racism, homelessness, crime, drugs and the images in which children are depicted in the media. I frequently witness children’s awareness and their struggles because I make contact with them.
So, children today often must learn to survive at a very early age. Many times they are alone in their struggles. Their isolation often forces children to rely on their inner resources, which seems to have contributed to the spiritual awareness I frequently witness in children. Civic and business leaders, educators and the facilitators of progress must make a concerted effort to enter into a process with children to discover the nature of their struggles and to see children’s powerful awarenesses born of their struggles. Our leaders must see that children today have developed very strong instincts to survive and that children must be given the tools to enter into society. If they are not integrated into the society, their survival instinct will operate outside of the society.
Children watch officialdom in America corrupt the consciousness of our society. They see our leaders betray our trust. Children see massive stealing go on in the business world. They see light sentences for white collar criminals who have committed heinous crimes, manipulated billions of dollars and destroyed untold numbers of lives. Children see the cruelty and hypocrisy in the search for scapegoats to justify the illusion of shortages in a time of hoarding and greed. Leadership in our country has set a custom of lies and deceit as the way to hold on to power without accountability to the electorate. The order of the day is to get the job done with expediency in the quest for instant success, giving no understanding to the process that maintains integrity. As an electorate, we have lost hope in the image of the statesman.
Children follow the examples set by our leadership’s betrayal of the collective consciousness. Children confront this betrayal with their instinct to survive. In some cases this leads our children to develop a consciousness that says, “the only place I can find employment is in the underworld. I’m not going to get a job and pay taxes. I’m not going to develop a skill. I’m going to join forces with the fraternity of individuals locked in the cycle of crime.” It is a tragic reality of our society that the instinct to survive has sent many children into the drug trade. Joining the fraternity of crime provides children with a temporary short cut to financial success. Within the fraternity of crime, children can become wealthy without developing the discipline of mind to read and write. They do not have to seek the recognition of the pillars of our society. They do not have to contribute to the institutions that support our society to maintain its status quo. They only have to commit crimes against the society and themselves, and live in the illusion of security and power. This action of a child robs the society of that child’s natural potential to contribute, to give back to society, and to build our world.
Our society was built by the people who had the strongest instinct to survive. Our society has developed through competition. The “old money” in America was created by such people. Survival instinct is the fuel of a competitive market economy. The children we neglect today have the same strong will as our founding fathers, who themselves were very often the socially disenfranchised. It is vital to all of our survival that we give our children the tools necessary to lift them and their communities out of an insecure, neglected life.
My fellow citizens, we have created a collective consciousness of neglect of our charge. We have done so by not participating in a united collective stewardship of our land. We do not vote in large numbers. We do not articulate a priority of direction. We isolate ourselves and react only to issues directly related to our immediate need without thought to the survival of our children and our future. We seek instant fulfillment, instant success. The pursuit of instant fulfillment removes us from involvement in creative process. To raise a child, to make contact with a child is to be involved in creative process.
Creative process built America. Creative process will solve the problems of America. When we practice creative process we create a norm of peaceful behavior, safety, and successful communication. We restore the blurred vision of our land, and the lost traditional values that uphold all of us as a collective whole. To practice creative process in rearing our children is to see the fulfillment of the vision that beckons all our dreams.
I am a student of history. I see that as a collective consciousness we must recognize our mistakes. We must not dwell in the past to create guilt or blame. However, we must objectively examine the past in order to move forward and develop our creative and spiritual potential. We must see the present struggle of our society as part of an on-going process of spiritual and creative development. This recognition of our present allows us to see all of the opportunities that may attend the moment and to know that we will move forward. I have hope, faith, and trust in the inevitable continued development of our country.
My work with children confirms to me the validity of my vision and approach to teaching. In my early career as a teacher I intuitively tried to allow the child in each of my students to help me. I opened myself to letting the child show me what was unique in each of my students. The child showed me what was unique within each student, and I discovered how to guide each student in their individual creative development.
It is true that we all need to be taught form and that we all need to learn a wide range of ways to direct our energies. Children must be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, the sciences, the humanities. But every teacher of children must be aware we are dealing with individuals who are not yet old enough to have gained experience projecting ideas into the society, individuals with unformulated opinions. Individuals at such a level of vulnerability must be taught that they are precious and valued in and of themselves, because they do not yet have the experience of their ideas giving them power in the world. Children need to know that whatever they do not know now they can learn. They need to know that everyone can learn. Many educators today seem to have accepted a widely expressed distortion that certain children cannot learn.
To learn something new evokes a feeling of vulnerability in all of us. To help a child to be open to learn, a teacher must first help him to feel confident. A teacher must create situations wherein a child can feel confidence in himself. A teacher must help a child to see that if he feels good and confident dancing to a particular beat, that is the same way he should feel when he does a math problem. In order to support a child’s confidence and help him to be open to learn, a teacher must first find out what that child does well. To do so, the teacher must make contact with the child. The teacher must help the child see that what he or she does is important; that they can do things of value with intelligence, and that they can be appreciated.
In order to make the crucial contact which makes learning, teaching and the exchange of ideas possible, the teacher or facilitator must understand the background of each child. He must understand that every member of society feels validated in some places and invalidated in others. The upper class child feels invalidated by the lower class child. The lower class child feels invalidated by the upper class child. The norm dictates that whoever is in the majority in a situation will feel validated and whoever is in the minority in a situation can feel invalidated. So, the teaching of children must always start from the premise that they all have something to offer, they are all capable of learning, and they all have had different experiences. Those differences represent their unique understandings of their surroundings. It is the teacher’s role to see how those unique understandings relate to the larger whole of society. In this way the teacher can see the potential for each child to contribute in his own world and the larger world. Because all communities are inter-related, all people are inter-related. Each child must learn that they have an on-going process with the larger community. In doing so, we give each child a sense of the importance of their unique contribution, and the value of their involvement in the world.
So many children feel that they are throw-aways. They become adults with the same beliefs. Those beliefs perpetuate a consciousness that they have nothing to contribute. They become alienated, helpless and resentful. These feelings support a belief that they have no alternatives. This resentment makes people feel they have no investment in the ongoingness of their own life, their community, or society at large. Resentment creates the belief that they do not have to take care of themselves, that they have nothing to contribute, and they should be supported by society.
At no point do they have a reference for feeling that anything they have to contribute has been valued by the society. They feel they have nothing to offer and treat the society the way society treats them. They invalidate the norms by which society has come to define a valued contribution. Anger and helplessness allow for both passive and aggressive ways to invalidate accepted norms of what is considered successful. Many rebel against the norm. Many apply the tools of society in ways other than those that give greater meaning to life or support enlightenment. The tools of power can create and they can destroy. We can create our own path to our dreams and visions or we can destroy the path.
Learning must concern itself with the opening of consciousness, not the closing of minds. Teachers must be open to individuals different from themselves regardless of background or race. Learning begins with an awareness of the existence of people, places, ideas and beliefs different from oneself and one’s own. Learning and teaching must be done with grace and trust as each action continuously encounters the unknown. To decipher the unknown, we must first treat it with grace and respect. This is civilized. This allows a trust to be established in which the unknown can reveal its mysteries. It is vital for children to feel respected so that they can learn. It is vital that children are taught respect by example; otherwise they learn to be elitists. As elitists they know not that other than oneself exists; other classes, races, religions, cultures and ideas. Teaching and learning do not coexist with exclusivity or alienation. Learning is expansion of the teacher and of the student.