In our country, we place a low value on childhood and advanced age. The unspoken societal rules indicate that if you’re not a working, earning adult, you have little or no value in our society. This is evidenced in the way we fund our social support systems, and how we pay staff who work with these populations. Early childhood teachers, child and adult caregivers, senior living facility staff all are in positions that are held in low public esteem, often disparaged as glorified babysitters. The societal status of elementary school teachers is slightly more positive, but not by much. And that myopic view of the worth of those jobs is reflected in the substandard pay that such positions offer.
Look at Japan, on the other hand—there is a high value on both children, who are recognized as the future of the country, and on elders, who are acknowledged for their experience and wisdom in guiding the working adults. Children and seniors are not groups of humans that should be shuffled off and merely tolerated until they grow into productive adulthood or pass on from the world. They should be honored and respected for the unique gifts of life experience and perspective they can offer the rest of us.
In order to make a true difference in transforming the current education system in the United States we need to see children and childhood as equally valuable to “contributing” members of society and our wise elders. Childhood is a time in life that only happens once. You may be saying to yourself, “No kidding,” but let that really sink in. How many of our children today are truly getting to enjoy this magical and wildly imaginative time of their lives without the daily stressors of what is typically thought of as adult concerns? How many children are worried about where their next meal is coming from and whether their family is safe? Or being juggled from class to class with no time for play and just being a kid?
This is reflected in our schools as anything that is not a Common Core subject is put on the chopping block. Physical education, recess, free play and exploration, music, art and anything that is right-brained and play-based is cut from the daily schedule as unimportant. The key pieces of what makes childhood fun and supports optimal growth and development across all developmental domains are being taken away from children in the name of higher test scores and better academics. I argue that the cost far outweighs the benefits of this approach. What are you doing to diminish these costs and support childhood as a valuable part of the life span?