Children are naturally very good at some things. For example, they are exceptionally good at playing. They need very little help with this, and in fact, they don’t even need toys. Some sticks and mud are more than enough once they get going. Very young ones need some encouragement and example, but this is best provided not by adults but by older children. Adults just aren’t so good at playing.
Adults are, however, good at being still and focusing on a task. They are good at finishing one thing before moving on to something else. They are good at listening politely and not interrupting. They have a much wider knowledge and vocabulary. Adults have knowledge and skills which children need to learn if they are to mature successfully.
And yet, bizarrely, there are many adults who try their best to behave like children when they are interacting with them. They try to join in with their games. They try to reduce their vocabulary. They try to get ‘down with the kids’.
Imagine if we did this with babies. When we were in their presence, we would only use words they already knew. So we wouldn’t speak to them at all. We would try to act like them as much as possible. So we had better not walk, or we might alienate them. Better roll around on the floor and wave our arms around, imitating all that wonderful natural spontaneity. After all, we wouldn’t want to corrupt them with our artificial adult ways.
If we get down, will they ever grow up? We are raising adults, not children.
The lowering of adult dignity and authority even continues into interaction with adolescents, who are nearing adulthood themselves. Adults try to learn about the latest drivel to issue from the popular culture industry. They try to learn teenage slang. In doing so, they are making themselves look ridiculous and encouraging the arrogance of teenagers, who think they know so much more than their uncool elders about what really matters.
The teenagers are wrong. Adults know a lot more than they do. And yet so many adults are shy about passing on their knowledge, or about using vocabulary that will not be instantly accessible to the young. They don’t want to be ‘didactic’; they don’t want to alienate young people with ‘lectures’.
I’ve had to discover many a valuable piece of information in a slow, uncertain and laborious way, because no one explained it to me when I was young. What’s the problem with wanting my own children, or my pupils, to be spared that pain?