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Big kids

23 May 2013 by superlative

Blog every day in May topic – Things you’ve learned that school won’t teach you 

I had to think about this one for a while, but in the end all the things I came up with seemed to have to do with children’s perception of adults – either the perception they create themselves, or the one adults ask children to have.

So the first thing I’ve learnt that school won’t teach you is this: adults are just children in bigger bodies.

When you’re a child, you might typically think that your parents and your teachers know everything. That they’re always right. That they generally know what they’re doing. That they’re sensible and grown up, and probably a little boring. This, however, is false.

Adulthood seems to consist of a learned veneer of maturity and a way of speaking with a degree of confidence. But underneath, we’re all just big kids. We might speak to children (and adults, in formal situations) in a lofty, knowledgeable way, but lots of adults when left alone in a group will just talk about rude things because it’s titillating. We’ll make idiotic jokes. We’ll talk about people who we don’t like, and encourage other people not to like them either. We’ll hope that other people like us, and secretly worry that they don’t. We’re just unsupervised children with driving licences and credit cards.

Lots of adults aren’t very confident either, even if they seem it, and lots don’t seem to know anything at all. They might know more than a child, but there is a reason why children have a reputation for asking difficult questions – it’s because if you press most adults beyond their veneer of knowledge, there isn’t actually very much underneath.

We need children to trust adults because adults have to exercise authority to keep them safe. If an adult says drinking bleach is dangerous, a suspicion that the adult doesn’t know what they’re talking about is not going to be advantageous to the child. So I’m not advocating that we reveal our flaws and foibles to our offspring. I suppose I am instead just musing that there must come a point where a child will realise the truth on their own. And at that point the child could choose to start behaving like an adult if it pleased them, and all they’d be missing is the bigger body.

Related to this is the second thing I’ve learnt that school won’t teach you: it’s OK to question what you’re told. In fact, it’s very important to question what you’re told.

This is a funny one, because children spend their earliest years being instructed to accept knowledge as it is presented to them. We might say we want them to be independent learners, but for all the core stuff, basic skills, social mores, and anything to do with any religion they’re being instructed in, we actually just want them to shut up and memorise.

It’s only later in their education that they start to be told that this is a very bad thing. By postgraduate level, you’re not meant to be reading and regurgitating – if you aren’t questioning the text you’re reading, you’re not reading it right. But what happens if children never get told when they start questioning things? If it’s left too late, or they never learn that lesson, they go through life accepting things just because someone says so in a loud voice, or because it’s printed in a newspaper or written on a webpage.

This is a very, very bad thing. As mentioned earlier, lots of adults don’t know what they’re talking about. Accepting what they say is a recipe for disaster. Learning about something, hearing different points of view, and making up your own mind based on evidence, is extremely important, and not enough people seem able to do it.

So I suppose my advice to children would be – yes listen to adults, but be a little cautious. Look at a dictionary or an encyclopaedia (it’ll be an online one, I imagine, so make it reputable) and don’t be afraid to check things. Taking control of your own learning is one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do.


  1. Maff says:

    I remember in Junior School, a supply teacher was teaching us the capitals of countries around the world.

    She told us Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. When I piped up and told her it was Brasília she told me I was wrong and the class laughed at me. I was strong and again told her that she was incorrect – at which point I was shouted at and told to stop being disrespectful and that I needed to learn when I was wrong.

    Stupid bitch.

  2. superlative says:

    I’m not remotely surprised. It doesn’t help that children can be quite shrill and annoying, so you just want to smack them if they question you.

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