14 Sep 2018

André Stern -- must creative kids grow into unimaginative adults?

From an early age, a child tries things that excite and stimulate them, but when they realize that their ideas clash with adult expectations -- they lose their zeal.

Wysokie Obcasy
Anna J. Dudek Wysokie Obcasy, Global
André Stern -- must creative kids grow into unimaginative adults? - NewsMavens
Child playing, Pixabay

The following fragments are from Anna J. Dudek's interview with André Stern which appeared in "Wysokie Obcasy" in May 2018.

André Stern is a musician, composer, guitar maker, author and journalist. His father, Arno Stern, an educationalist and researcher, never sent him to school. In his lectures, André emphasizes the role of enthusiasm and trust in a child’s development. He’s the author of the bestselling books: "… Und ich war nie in der Schule"  [...and I never went to school] and “Spielen”[Play], both originally published in German. He is an expert in educational alternatives, and works with educational institutions.

Anna J. Dudek: Have you ever wondered what your life would look like if your parents had sent you to school?

Andre Stern: No (laughter). I’m 47 and I have never had to consider what would have happened if I had gone to school. For me, not attending school was normal.

AD: You use the same method with your children and often emphasize that despite your vast interests and activities, being a father and watching your kids’ progress is your life priority. 

All children regard themselves as the right person in the right place and time. There’s a great freedom in children’s certainty that everything is OK. They don’t evaluate or speculate whether fulfilling others’ expectations will make them more valuable people. I’ve never lost this quality either.

AD: You grew up oblivious to certain models and conventions. Did this experience allow you to develop freely, without the constraints normally applied at schools?

The method -- in this case a traditional school --  is not the real source of the problem. It’s the approach. Kids want to be a part of this world and they don’t use social or racial categorization. For them, differences are natural and they can cleverly use them to become more sensible and wiser human beings. And it’s all thanks to their main driving force: enthusiasm.

AD: You learn quicker if you’re having fun?

It’s not about playing and having fun. When children engage in what we normally call “playing", they give their full attention to this activity. And they focus on the activity at hand only if it arouses their enthusiasm. It applies to adults as well, except kids -- being extremely open -- are keen about almost anything!

They’re also unaware of  the hierarchies known to adults; they don’t realize what’s cooler, easier or more practical -- being an astronaut or a window cleaner? They don’t judge or estimate, therefore they’re enthusiastic

AD: So traditional hierarchy and education kill our enthusiasm and stop our progress?

Indeed. From an early age, a child tries things that excite and stimulate them but at some point in life, they notice that it clashes with the expectations of other people -- then they lose their zeal and try to fit in.

AD: Are you saying that when kids are playing, they’re all geniuses?

Precisely. Adults dream of achieving such concentration.

We need a few years of meditation to be able to focus completely for five minutes, while children can fully concentrate on their activity for many hours. We envy them, yet we do anything we can to deprive them of this ability, by pushing them to fit our social and intellectual conventions. 

AD: What could we learn from kids?

Liberty. And the capacity to push our own limits. But also, a comparable creativity and power to look at reality with our own eyes. We wish to find all these qualities -- imagination, inventiveness, joy, enthusiasm and focus -- in adults, so we start teaching our children to make them ready. Unfortunately, by doing this we separate them from the world in which they would acquire and develop all these wonderful skills naturally.

AD: If we have this knowledge, why don’t we use it in schools?

I don't know. But again, the problem doesn’t lie with the method, but with the attitude. Schools are not an exception -- they don’t differ from the rest of the world.

I never criticize educational institutions as such. I also don’t claim that it’s the schools’ fault that creative kids grow into uninventive adults.

AD: Are there any other myths we grew up with that we tend to pass on to our children?

We’ve always been told that children start by being nobody and if they work hard, they might become better versions of themselves.

If you truly believe that children are “zeros” and adults are the upgraded models, then you automatically put every child in an inferior position. That’s cruel and unjustified.

All children have great potential, they can learn anything they want. When we come to this world, we are miniature versions of the adults we might become in the future. Adults, on the other hand, are the shadows of the people they could have become. If you’re aware of that, you can’t  look down on children. Kids are giants of potential.

AD: In that case, why do we persistently patronize them?

It’s so ironic that we do this. And every time it happens, we send a message. In all of us there’s a wounded child who at least once has been told: "You’re not OK. If you want to be liked, you’ll have to change". It stays with us for the rest of our lives and makes us become what other people expect us to be. Basically, when you’re a young person you are able to achieve anything you want, but the world tells you that you’re nobody and it forces you to adjust to the rest.

A child, torn by these two contradictory views, tries to find a way to bring them together. And since they can’t change others’ unfavorable opinions, they end up accepting them as their own.

Such behavior diminishes the source of pain. That’s how kids become what we want them to be -- they try to please us and feel accepted.

AD: That’s bad news.

Perhaps not. We already know it, we only forgot about it. We forgot that when we say: “I love you”, we should add "for what you are”.

AD: Is this the way you talk to your family?

Always. Because these are not just words. This reconciliation with the child inside us is a nostalgic act. Today, we’re told that self-development is a complex and laborious task. It’s not true! All you need to do is change the way you see yourself. Tell yourself: “I love you just the way you are" and see what happens. 

AD: Sounds like a psychological miracle diet.

Maybe, but it works! That’s why I still have the enthusiasm and energy to travel around the world and share it with people.

AD: Is enthusiasm something we can acquire? Or if once lost, can it be regained?

The easiest way would be to learn it all over again. From children.


Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach


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