Learning from the freedom of children

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, August 2019

A recent scene at the baggage carousel: nothing has happened for an hour, then an announcement that there will, unfortunately, be a further delay. All the waiting passengers are irritated, tiredly check their smartphones, and feel the weight of lost time! All of them? ...

... except for the little girl with the faded jeans, the slightly messy, stripy t-shirt and hair that clearly her mum has had a go at who appears to have come straight from Bullerby and has not yet been bored for a second. First, she says hello to every single one of the slats of the never-ending giant conveyor by tapping it, then she hops always to the next but one and taps it twice, and finally she sings a matching tone for each slat which she repeats every time she returns to it. When the carousel begins to move, she enthusiastically announces each suitcase as it appears: “... and another suitcase, Mum!” All of that is much too much here and now to pay attention to who is watching. 

Recently, a discussion ensued at home about a book title: “Become who you are!” versus “Be who you are!” Some of us felt the “become” to be presumptuous from people who apparently felt called upon to allow others their true value only in the future; others among us experienced the “be” as fixing on something that has already become, is finished, of the past and without the possibility of further development. And then there was the little girl, who was not bothered by either of them and was and became at the same time. 

Education is always connected with both. What is to develop in the future stands for our belief that there is far more in the child than they already have available as skills. From a certain biographical point onwards, it is then up to each person themselves to take active control of their own development or to leave it to the course of events: “That’s just how I am!” This decision has to be taken by each person anew each day.  

In education the matter is more difficult because if it is true of self-education that we first of all have to accept ourselves as we “are” before we can turn with a fair degree of freedom towards what we want to become, then the attitude of the adults towards the child has consequences for their whole future life. Because the “being” of the child already contains everything that they bring along with them and can already do. But they need people around them who can see that and take pleasure in it. 

Anyone who challenges a child to “become” without lovingly recognising what they “are” turns them into an object, a deficient being which first has to be changed and optimised in order to function properly. What remains, is the feeling of being inadequate, of being insufficient. In the course of two centuries we have become used to the idea that children have to be educated in school towards something, to become loyal subjects, Nazis or communists, to be turned into functioning cogs in the industrial machine, and, most recently, to become obedient parts of our increasingly algorithmically organised world. 

Let us honour what children are! That is one of the most important keys to freedom. Let us encourage ourselves to develop, then we can discover Bullerby everywhere.

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