Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recognizing and Valuing Our Children as Citizens

On a recent visit to the infant/toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, I was struck by the passionate claim that we should not view and treat children as future citizens of our world, because they are in fact, already citizens, and have been since the moment that their life began. This was one of many statements that demonstrates the view that our Italian counterparts have of the child as an important contributor to the knowledge that is rapidly being constructed during each moment of the day. Each of us who has the opportunity to spend time with a child needs to consider this view, and work to honor the ideas, creativity, and contributions that children have and make, yet which often go unrecognized and unappreciated by "more knowledgeable" adults.

As I think about the recent election of and inauguration of President Barack Obama, there was evidence that children around the world had strong opinions and even ideas to share. First there were the children in Africa who attend the Senator Obama school, and who stayed up late into the night to celebrate along with their village. Here in the U.S., the most current episode of America's Funniest Home Videos showed multiple clips of very young children repeating his name and crying out as their parents teased them by saying that McCain had won. On inauguration morning, my ALMOST 2 year old niece walked by the t.v., and noticing who was on the screen said, "Barack Omamma!" Later that morning, she was heard talking to the family cat saying, "Come Molly! Barack Omamma on t.b.! Come watch!" In Michigan, a preschool teacher placed a t.v. in her classroom and then recorded the childrens reactions to the inauguration proceedings. They debated over whether the man on the screen was Barack Obama or George Washington, deciding that since George Washington was on money, he must be dead. They also helped each other figure out which man wearing a black suit and red tie might be Barack Obama (apparently there were many on stage that fit into this category). I also say many clips of children sharing their thoughts about what might be some of the most important problems for our new president to address. It shouldn't have been surprising that many of the children addressed pollution, recycling, and the need for healthier school lunches. Why, with such important contributions coming from our children, do we still think that we need to be the ones telling them all of the answers? What might happen to our world if we started listening to the insight coming from our youngest citizens? What do you think?