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"The child is father to the man.”

Everything a child experiences affects the way in which the adult relates to the world in later life. Wordsworth's paradox speaks of a deeper truth: From the first moments of life, each human being responds to impressions in a way which is uniquely his or her own. No two children are the same. The experience which one child makes is thus different from that of every other. By recognising the importance of such observations, one can begin to see in the developing child something which is not merely a product of genetic inheritance or social milieu. One realises that something within the child strives to grasp these outer factors in order to bring itself to expression. Children bear the seed of that which they will become within themselves. As educators we must give this seed the nourishment it needs in order to grow.

One of the most serious learning impediments of our time is the early withdrawal of the younger child from the impressions the environment has to offer. Even five-to-six-year-olds seem to feel the need to retreat into an inner world that does not let experience penetrate. Cut off from the faculty of imitation, one will also be cut off from what can enable one - for instance - to continue to acquire new abilities as an adult. It is therefore essential for the physical and social school environment to be one that strengthens the child's threatened sense of security. Giant buildings, endless corridors, echoing concrete walls may thus be less helpful than a little wooden shack where one can feel at home.

Subsequent stages of development call for new qualities in the growing child. As the ability to discover and grasp the laws of nature grows, as a questioning and critical attitude appears, it is essential that the child experiences a new trust in the older generation. Not what grown-ups know but how they know now becomes important. There must be an unspoken awareness that all knowledge is connected with responsibility, that a further step in experience or knowledge does not only mean an increase in power or efficiency.

Step by step, growing degrees of comprehension will call for an increasingly responsible attitude to the world. The awareness of this can be awakened in the child by contact with adults who "live" their interest in the world, who are continually re-examining their own role as human beings and as educators. A child that experiences this will later, as an adult, have the ability to act responsibly in society and to seek an understanding of the effect of his or her actions in the environment.

Therefore, in the period when the children are of school-age, the task of the educator is only outwardly that of handing out suitable amounts of information and seeing that habits of work and study are adopted by the future citizen. The actual task is, however, to awaken the faculties that lie in each child by means of the everyday activities in the classroom or in the home. The growing child is still dependent on the general quality of humanity within the adult. This dependence gradually comes to an end with the onset of puberty.

After puberty, the qualities of professionalism, of efficiency at work and of competence have the strongest influence in awakening the faculties still dormant within the young person. During this period of vocational training or of higher education, work performed will still not be judged merely by its measurable result, although this will play an important part. Certain other qualities should now emerge. The main thing will be how these youngsters are challenged by the task in hand. Now the pupils former dependence on the relationship to his teachers or educators will be replaced by the adolescent's need to observe and to follow a "master of his trade" at work. The process by which a result is achieved must now be consciously grasped, understood and accepted as a standard of assessment. In maturity, reliance on one's own standards can then emerge, something to which we can also give the name of freedom. Beyond that, the understanding will arise that knowledge and experience acquired by a process of work is not something we ourselves possess. They will not secure our future place in society. All knowledge leads to responsibility. We can share it with the following generation who will make it their own. That can bring about true brotherhood and implies furthering the aims of others by the experience and the abilities we have been allowed to gain from life.

"The child is father to the man": The fullness of future abilities lives in the child. In order to develop these, the selfless care of adults, of educators, is needed. It is their task to remove obstacles from the emerging gifts the child will offer to the world. It is no less their concern to see deficiencies and to recognise them as opportunities to call up new forces at a formative age, when this may still be possible.

Future society will need one thing above all others: the ability to learn from experience, to learn from mistakes, to rise above the limitations that appear to be ingrained in us from our childhood. The strength to do this lies within the core of the individual, the "father to the man" who can never be an object of education but who must rather be enabled to take on the process of self-education from within.

Magda Maier

Empower & donate now
Empower & donate now