When the Paradigm Shifts

How old were you when you realized that the adults in your life did not, in fact, have “it all figured out”?

My childhood experience went something like this: There were kids and there were adults. Adults had big, important things to do and it was best if us kids stayed out of their way so they could do all of the big, important, and mysterious adult “things”. These things required the cleverness, skill and seriousness that only an adult possessed. These adult “things” included cooking, shopping, planning trips, devising schedules, working, managing money, managing relationships- among other things. At home and at school, the adults made the rules and because adults had it all figured out, we (mostly) followed the rules without question.

And then, inevitably, this paradigm fails us. As we become more worldly, we realize the adults in our lives- the moms, the dads, the teachers, the administrators, the “bosses” and societal leaders are not the omnipotent beings we believed them to be. There is no race with a finish line and prize of “having it all figured out.” Those adults in our lives? They were just humans trying to figure it out as they went along.

I was far too old before I came to this understanding of adulthood. Regardless of your age, this initial paradigm shift is scary and confusing. It can lead us to question nearly all of our closely held assumptions. What does it mean to really “know” something? Who makes the rules? If adults are not as powerful as I thought, am I safe? If there is no such thing as the “all-knowing adult”, who is going to teach me “all the things”? If we are all just trying to figure this life thing out at the same time, are we doomed? How do I proceed now that the rules are blurred and the finish line no longer exists?

And then, bit by bit, we begin the arduous (and often painful) process of piecing together this new world we’ve now found ourselves in- often “unlearning” so much of what we pocketed as truth.

Step back a bit, and perhaps we can see the cultural and societal costs of this rebuilding process. (This is an interesting article on the topic).

Is it necessary? Or can we do better?

Imagine instead, a version of childhood that looks like this: Adults and children are each learners with different amounts and types of life experience. Both experiences are respected and important. Children work alongside adults, asking them questions related to the process of learning. These questions allow children to see that most of the things adults seem to be “mysteriously” good at, are from years of practice, determination, grit and failure. Starting from a young age, children learn the art of cooking, shopping, planning trips, devising schedules, working, managing money, managing relationships and, among many other things, they learn how capable they are. At home and at school, the adults make the “big” rules (safety, well-being, etc) yet engage the child in the very important process of creating the other rules. Each step along the way, the child is encouraged to look at all existing systems and “rules” from a place of curiosity.

Can you imagine this?

Growing up this way, children are shaped by a much different worldview. Early on, they recognize themselves as co-creators of knowledge and the adult-child relationship is based on respect, empathy and trust. They understand themselves to be leaders not followers, creators not consumers, and powerful agents of change.

This is why there are no “all knowing” adults at The Village School. It is why we have Guides and not teachers. It is why we have heroes instead of students and children. It is why we are all (adults included) learners on a journey.

We can imagine the paradigm shift described above because this is the very worldview etched in every part of learning design and community culture at TVS.

Step back a bit, and perhaps we can see the endless possibilities of building such a world. (Not to mention the relief, that now, as adults, we can graciously admit, that we most certainly do not “have it all figured out.”)

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