Famously, bamboo plants don’t produce a single green shoot for five years but spring up 90 feet high in less than two months… The question commonly asked is whether the plant grows 90 feet in less than two months, or 90 feet in five years?
In 1958, then-Headmaster at Wellesley College, William Stevens, presented his annual prize giving address. His gammy leg caused him to limp and thus he earned the nickname, Hoppy. Hoppy Stevens developed legendary status with the boys as someone you didn’t mess with.
Later that afternoon, one of the boys managed to pinch Hoppy’s speech. Many years later, at a Wellesley Old Boys’ function, that same student passed Hoppy’s 1958 speech onto me. Let me share a little of it with you:
Ladies and Gentlemen
Parents and teachers of today appear to be mainly concerned with two subjects-the Playway approach to education and Juvenile delinquency. The new freedom of the welfare state has made children increasingly difficult to control, both at home and in school. They talk more, they shout more, they cannot play unless games are organized, they are more destructive,–and what is more, many appear to take pleasure in destruction. The majority of children today are not being encouraged to do their best. They are over conscious of their rights and ignorant of their duties.” And so, the speech went on.
Well how often do we hear this call of “the youth of today”? Way back in time – 700BC – the Greek poet, Hesiod said: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words — when I was a boy we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly unwise and impatient.”
So, what have we learnt through all these historical sermons? Possibly that nothing much changes and that the enthusiasm and spontaneity of youth combined with their inherent egocentricity drives us all crazy at times.
Young children have always tested their teachers and parents. Throw in the increasing complexity of society with the added pressures of social media and at times we all sigh. However, there are some truisms that remain constant.
At age five, children come to school with very clear lenses. That is, they filter very little from what comes into their head. They will blurt out just what they are thinking and dreaming. Their writing is truly of their personal voice. Their art can be awesomely beautiful and expressive. Their dance, creative and free! Children are willing to freely express themselves. So, what traditionally happens at school that dries up so much of this personal expression? Where do all those filters come from that inhibit most adults’ ability to express themselves? How often do we as adults alter our original thoughts before we allow the world to view or hear them?
How do you marry the need to maintain high standards in education, guarantee strong standards of respectful behaviour and yet foster children’s individuality and creativity? Well in my humble opinion we, parents and teachers alike must consistently look to meaningfully build children’s self-esteem. Having good self-esteem frees up creativity and fosters individuality.
Self-esteem is not about praising mediocrity.
Self-esteem grows from recognition of personal effort and achievement. The curriculum must be presented in a relevant and meaningful way which engages the students.
Self-esteem and self-worth are closely connected with respect; respect for self and respect for others. It is also tied up with self-discipline and managing impulsivity. And, of course, self-esteem is inextricably linked with interpersonal relationships and related social skills.
The biggest mistakes we can make as educators and you can make as parents are to:
- Solve children’s problems rather than give them a chance to overcome problems themselves. Life is uncomfortable sometimes and we have to learn how to manage these times. The best thing we can do is be supportive and teach strategies that encourage persistence and resilience for these tough times. Otherwise, these become the overprotected children –spoiled, lacking confidence, avoiding new challenges, helpless.
- Allow children to be a victim, blaming others for their actions or lack of action. We must ‘hang tough’ – be fair, positive, and human but insist on their responsibilities being met and placing natural consequences in place if they are not. This fosters commitment, tenacity, and perseverance which in turn fosters achievement which is fundamental to self-worth.
It is a fine line we as parents and educators walk between developing real independence and not placing too much responsibility on children. But if we can maintain this balance calmly and respectfully the modelling is incredibly powerful. We live in a wonderful country with an outstanding future. Somehow, together, we must walk the tight rope of fostering children’s individuality and creativity and inculcate core community values that will ensure they are caring and giving citizens who are proud to work hard and play hard for their country.
Parental support is crucial to children’s happiness now and as an adult. Each child is different, and this individuality is to be celebrated. With unwavering support and patience most children will achieve success and happiness. We must take the medium to long view and be consistent.
After saying all this, it would be incredibly naïve and disrespectful of me not to acknowledge that through no fault of their own, many families are dealing with generations of cultural and social challenges that have pulled hope out from their hearts and all that is possible is a day-to-day existence. I get that and this is society’s biggest challenge.
My message here is a broader one though, and the old cry of ‘the youth of today’ isn’t helpful. What we must be careful of is putting a negative spin on the vitality of youth. Somehow, we have to use this energy and creativity in constructive ways. Passion and laughter in life are so important.
Our young bamboo might not show instant growth but be supportive and patient and you will reap a bountiful harvest.