TED Conversations

Kelly Witwicki Faddegon

Organizer, Speaker, Graphic Designer, Direct Action Everywhere

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How can we encourage children to start recognizing (and rising above) category boundaries from a young age?

"All conventions are boundaries, waiting to be transcended." (Cloud Atlas)

Perhaps learning from a young age to reject absolutes, to break down boundaries and embrace complications, would dissolve racial discrimination, sexism, sexuality based violence, religious intolerance, and the other social stereotypes and personal limitations created by labels.

I think being able to recognize boxes is the first step to improving our ability to "think outside the box".

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    Mar 19 2013: A child learns to think and reason from family(parents, siblings, grandparents), teachers, caregivers and media (books,television). Creating an environment at home and school that is conducive to recognizing and transcending the boundaries would help. My son's school conducts various events to encourage learning about different cultures. Myself and my husband use every opportunity to introduce my son to different cultures,languages,music and cuisines.
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    Mar 21 2013: Certainly, getting fictional and historical kids books and films that involve boundary breakdowns into schools would be fantastic! I think we should keep an eye out for how we look at history too, like you said about the gladiators, it's so true, we even have fun gladiator costumes, while I can't imagine seeing someone wear a yellow star of David on Halloween -- I certainly did not know until later in high school that gladiators were slaves and not just cool ancient action heroes. I will definitely not say we should make whatever expressions people want to use illegal (excepting straight hate speech) in the interest of a singular "correct" way to learn about something, but rather, providing our children with multiple perspectives is key to getting them to learn to look for different dimensions themselves!
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    Mar 20 2013: Yeah actually those would be fantastic starts, basically to hire positive psychologists for all K-12 schools and have maybe middle school and high school students choose a TED talk each week to summarize and discuss with the class. That could do a lot to remedy the distressing fact that we expose students to so little, and focus so hard on telling them what they are doing "wrong". Additionally I think allowing students to jump a grade or two ahead or "fall behind" in more areas than math would mean a lot to the kids who get frustrated, and would instantly teach them through example and practice that boundaries are constructs.
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    Mar 19 2013: I think that very big part of your answer lies in this TED Talk.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
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      Mar 19 2013: Indeed! But many parents will not raise their children in accordance with those values of acceptance, creativity, exploration and individuality, so what kind of school curriculum legislation or programs could we put in place to give that opportunity to the kids who won't have it at home?
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        Mar 19 2013: I think it can be any school. Public or private, but in my opinion I will put some extra events. Why don't we has some class where everyone will learn to make presentation in front of many people, and not just to make it in some office program. Why don't every school has ONE, just one class where students can watch TED talks. We need psychologist in school, not just when something bad happens, they need to be with students very often and see what are theirs capabilities and act in accordance with them.
  • Mar 19 2013: First, my credentials: I am just another parent and grandparent who has done a little reading about child development. Also, I have thought a lot about how a machine would learn about the world, starting from scratch..

    One of the most important aspects of learning about the world and learning your first language is generalization and grouping. This happens automatically. When a child sees a kitten for the first time and is told that this is a kitten, the child will examine the kitten. When a child next sees a different kitten it will immediately recognize the similarities and blurt out "kitten" (or more likely "kitty") in a mini-eureka moment. Without even thinking about it, even before a child learns the word "animal", a child will automatically classify dogs and cats as part of the same group, animals.

    Early childhood learning is about building the boxes. So, in my opinion, there is a time when it is too early to start teaching children to question the borders of these boxes.

    In my case, I do not recall anyone teaching me to question the boxes until I was around ten years old, maybe older. Ten is definitely way too late. By ten a child might find it very difficult to question some of those boxes.

    Fritzie says it is appropriate from the youngest ages, but I think you might want to hold off until the child has a good handle on the language and understands the difference between facts and opinions. If a child understands that difference, the child is ready for questioning borders and labels.

    (As I said, I am no expert, so I would be open to more information on this topic.)
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      Mar 19 2013: I was thinking of school-aged rather than two years old.
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      Mar 19 2013: So... once they have a grasp of language and can use the word "leaf" (citing Nietzsche here) require teachers through elementary school to engage in different activities and thought experiments that illustrate the fact that no two leaves are identical nor does any one match the generalized/ideal conception brought to mind by the word "leaf"? What can we do other than explanations like that to allow kids to explore this, and how do we make it a part of the cirriculum, since many parents will not guide their children to deconstruct constructed boundaries?
  • Mar 19 2013: Does anyone actually know what a young child learns when they witness something they cannot discuss?
    I don't think so. So if a child is scared and runs to a parent, the parent holds them, tries to soothe them and accepts that what they are telling them is making it all right. But they don't really know what the child is thinking, thus they don't know what the child has learned. In a way, what the child has taught itself.
    In order to, "reject absolutes, ... break down boundaries and embrace complications, (in order to) dissolve racial discrimination, sexism, sexuality based violence, religious intolerance, and the other social stereotypes and personal limitations created by labels" these have to be taught and in the correct way.
    To me the correct way, would be by giving the child the facts, the truth, not ones opinion, as to what a, or the, reality is.
    I just watched a new (well, new to me), animated film about all those wonderful characters many of us (certainly myself), were raised with and the message seemed to be one point only. That these fictional characters really, really, really do exist. I think this is not only horrible but is child abuse. They do not exist, never have and never will but to insist, as the story does, that children must believe they do, is to perpetrate a horrible evil upon children who will then not have a chance in hell of changing anything. Why? Because they will worship lies instead of the truth.
    Children have to be helped to do this, protected and shown how to stand up to inequality, lies, and the things you mentioned. After all, they are the ones who might be able to end them once and for all. We have had plenty of time to do so and haven't done it. One reason are the lies we worship. How can we change things, or why should we change things when lies are what we believe instead of the truth?
    Just trying to let ones child begin life without having a gender "nailed on" seems all too difficult, but some very brave parents have begun. Good
  • Mar 19 2013: Yes,I agree with what u said:being able to recognize boxes is the first step to improving our ability to"think outside the box".I think it is the most similiar with "when we want to know outside of the world more we always can't avoid to come back to ask :who I am?
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    Mar 19 2013: I think flexible thinking and questioning of categories is appropriate from the youngest ages, at home and at school. There is research evidence that openness can be cultivated in early schooling. I can find a reference for anyone who is interested in that evidence.
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      Mar 19 2013: I'm very interested!
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        Mar 19 2013: Okay, I will find it later. It is in an assigned reading early in Harvard's course on Creativity, but I don't remember off the top of my head which reading. I will get back to you.