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Martin LeFevre: Teach Your Children Well

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Teach Your Children Well

A hundred meters upstream a young African-American boy, thin as a reed, walks gingerly into the shallow stream. He is quickly followed by his older and chunkier sister, and by their massive (in height and girth) father.

At first they all play with abandon upstream, out of my line of vision. But after ten or fifteen minutes the current, and their exploration of logs, holes, and eddies, brings them downstream. We wave to each other as they near, and they all end up playing in the water right in front of my spot in the shade. The twin-trunks of a small tree have fallen over the creek and form a natural barrier with some deeper holes, which are waist high on the father and over the head of his young son.

It’s about 40 degrees Celsius, and though I was just in the creek, I’m sweating already. The father, who is at once playful as his joyful children, watchful as an attentive parent, and instructive as a wise teacher, is no more self-conscious as I watch them than before he knew I was there.

We exchange a few words, commenting on how much better it is for kids to play in the creek than any man-made pool. His little son, who he keeps referring to as “a leaf,” was at first afraid to put his head under the water, but now plunges in again and again.

The father reminds him however, “The water is no joke.” And when the boy is momentarily dunked and held under by the current, Dad puts his hand on his shoulder as the boy stands and gasps for air, gently but firmly telling him not to panic, but relax and breathe.

Must children be conditioned? As adults, if we are at all self-aware, we work to undo what the generations before us stamped on our minds and hearts through our parents. But if conditioning is no longer an assumed basis of being human, but is continually questioned, and thereby, transmitted lightly, then perhaps the minds of the young would be able to more easily throw off the chains of habit, tradition, and prejudice.

It’s really a question of human freedom. In America, the government and media propagandists talk about freedom a great deal. But in actuality this is a dead land saturated with darkness, to which parents and teachers are ‘teaching’ children to adapt. And since American culture has become the basic model and driving force for the emerging global culture, understanding what is happening to children here has direct relevance for the human prospect.

Anthropologists used to say, “women are the culture bearers.” During dinner with a group of Russian women in the Soviet Union a year before it fell, I asked what that expression meant to them. One of them said there is a Russian proverb that says, “men go first, and if it works, women go after.” The implication is that, on one hand, men here are not taking risks and going first, but rather going along and being yes men; on the other hand women, as the culture bearers, are keeping an unbearable culture going.

My intent here is not to wade into the murky waters of gender differences, but to explore whether this rotten culture (which extends far beyond North America) is a given. For various reasons, the question quickly becomes: Is conditioning a given?

The quintessential example of the assumed necessity to condition a child is spanking a toddler for wandering onto a busy street. At least in this part of the world, few question whether it’s necessary to strike a young child that starts to walk out into traffic. Though applied thoughtlessly, it’s a classic aversive conditioning technique. Without implying abuse, the idea is to give the toddler a good slap on the behind, thereby imprinting the danger on the child’s mind.

But as I’ve experienced with small children, even in such a situation, striking and conditioning a child isn’t necessary. If the adult is attentive to the child, to their surroundings, and to himself, he will directly convey the danger, so that the child instantly sees it for himself or herself.

That’s the key: teaching the child (because one is continuously and non-accumulatively learning oneself), how to see for herself or himself. Then, whatever challenge the young person is confronted with when they leave home and school, they will learn and grow as human beings. That’s how a new human being, and a new culture, will be created.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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