“The opposite of war is not peace; it’s creation.” — Jonathan Larson, composer and playwright most known for writing the musical Rent
Reading the headline news in The Huffington Post recently, I was struck by the marked contrast between two articles: The Impact section featured a story about seven-year-old Zora Ball, the youngest person to create a mobile app, while the front page featured a story about governmental leaders sabotaging peace agreements and maneuvering to instigate war. A child, new to our formal education system, is exercising creative power; while adults, graduates of our most esteemed universities, are exercising destructive power.
These articles are but a reminder that even in the best-case scenarios, far from the violence and decay of inner city schools, our education system fails to produce peaceful world citizens. Sadly, even the gold standard for education is based on a paradigm that sabotages both innovation and happiness.
“What is school all about? Is it just about giving the right answers to get grades and a job, or is it something more profound?” Bjorn Samuelsson, director of Creatlearn in Kalmar Sweden asks. World wide, conscientious citizens are rethinking our education system. We ask, “Does our school system produce a higher level of humanity or keep us perpetually recycling misery and destruction?”
In my experience both educating and parenting children in an elite public school system, I saw many children suffer from overwhelming stress, as a result of the pressures they faced in school. To cope, numerous children turned to prescription or recreational drugs, while others resorted to eating disorders, obsessive athletics, or video games. These behaviors are violence committed against the self – the beginning of inner turmoil that then projects into the world as outer turmoil over time, if left unaltered.
Happiness and compassion were not foci of this education system, but rather, were little tag-ons that came under the banner of “values training.” The central goal was to get students into a college with a recognizable name, in turn rewarding the child with a, “Wow! You got into ____!” When the price of attaining the goal includes forfeiting inner harmony and peace, the world looses as well. Pressures to conform instead of allowing for innate creativity eventually manifest problems in both the individual and society.
Our original style of learning is through our senses as we experience life and make connections within our being. This intuitive learning approach facilitates rapid accumulation of knowledge, such as in learning to communicate through language. “Intuitive learning is the higher function of our intellectual capabilities,” explains cognitologist, Carla Woolf, author of Connecting the Dots: The Cognitively Correct Way to Speak With Preschoolers. Woolf sees the early childhood approach to discovering the world as key to successful problem solving throughout life. The integrated inner knowledge comprised of emotions, senses, memories and reasoning is our highest intellect. “Children are unified beings. Cognition and emotion are closely connected,” concurs Catherine Snow, educational psychologist and professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The right and left sides of the brain with functions of logic and emotion are aspects of one brain designed to work in integration.
Unfortunately, the creative way of thinking is not rewarded today, as children instead are encouraged to fight their peers for coveted acceptances into top universities. As a result, those who “succeed” — who rise to the top and step into positions of leadership — learn to define not only our success but also our very identity according to how we win over others.
We lose sight of ourselves as being part of the world, and develop an “us-them” mindset that even permeates into our attitudes of self. With mind and body disconnected from heart and soul, we furthermore shut down our natural cues. We end up over-working, over-eating, and over-booking ourselves, in the name of pushing forward for coveted professional advancement and with it, we hope, personal fulfillment
The question, “Who am I, really?” hides behind, “Look at the bad stuff happening over there. They should do something,” We remain oblivious to the fact that we are part of the problem if we are not part of the solution. Being part of the solution, of course, requires accessing our intuition, applying our creativity, and taking calculated risks — key qualities to learn in school for a fulfilling life.
In our current academic model, creativity and innovation are acceptable only within the confines of the curriculum, leaving unsupported the visionary child who may be skilled at thinking outside the box. Unwittingly, standardized test oriented education erodes the kind of imaginative, independent thinking that is essential to problem-solve, replacing it with outside-in instruction that facilitates a dependency on authority. Meanwhile a child’s inner guidance, and with it, his self-reliance at navigating through life, atrophies.
Charlotte Reznik, PhD, is a child psychologist and author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination who works with a variety of emotional problems and disorders in children. Reznick’s advise is, “Let children solve their problems by using their imagination.” Innovative educators concur as they see the result of facilitating a child’s creative abilities. “The more a child is allowed to use creativity, the more successful they are as learners,” explains early childhood expert and parent advisor, Sheryl Cohen, Director of Early Education Program at the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles.
As innovations in science result from probing beyond the known, transformation from the fight-flight animal level power play in humanity comes from challenging status quo, and taking new approaches. Reasoning using intuition and win-win strategies towards harmonious living can become the norm.
To raise peace world citizens, we benefit by offering an upbringing and educational system that value and encourage intuitive learning. When we provide peace education to children — giving them the opportunity to convey sincere genuineness, mutual respect, and constructive inventiveness — they have a good chance to grow into compassionate and responsible individuals. “The child who feels safe in exercising their imagination at home naturally continues to be a creative thinker in the world,” states Julia Cameron, author of the best selling self-help books, The Artist’s Way andThe Artist’s Way for Parents. This exploratory imagination process allows for new approaches to old problem; so conflict is not resolved by war, jealousy by suppression or desire with violence.