I loved to play school. Not actually attend school, mind you, but to exchange the reality I knew for make-believe curricula, imaginary students, and a magical classroom of my very own. Here, in the quiet of the afternoon, is where I could profess to be more than I was, deny the convention of the world I knew, and to pretend, invent, and ultimately play to a more perfect world.
Gifts, for me, took the form of pencils, sharpeners, chalk and erasers. Dittos, I recall, were my gift of choice, along with a wish list of paper clips, textbooks, and even a broken overhead projector with which I staged my little school. My parents, as I recall, thought this was cute (for a while) passing by and even applauding my imaginary friends and world. But when my peers began maturing into clubs and groups and cliques, my being alone was mistaken for having been left behind, and coaxing me from this fantasy into their reality would require coercion.
Alfred Adler, Founder of the School for Individual Psychology, advocated for and in behalf of what he called the “Democratic Family.” His most famous concept was the “Inferiority Complex” which spoke to the problem of self-esteem and its negative effects on human health. While most of us know not to disturb someone who is sleep walking, Adler cautioned that we not disturb someone who is dreaming – even when awake – as such a disturbance to one’s personal space might paradoxically lead to a lifelong struggle known as the “Superiority Complex.” His conceptualization of the “Will to Power” focuses on the individual’s creative prowess to change for the better, and details how the child’s mind is really just a mission control panel of possibilities. Partnering with a child’s dreams is a parent’s job, Adler continued, and to create a place for them not in their world, but in an unforeseen, future place of their very own.
And so it was in 72’ that I scurried home, parked my bike, grabbed a snack, and to my room discovered a milieu of nameless, faceless strangers deconstructing my little classroom. The carpeting, furniture, even the canisters crammed with freshly sharpened pencils were gone, and with them every imaginary playmate I’d ever known or loved. And when I joined my peers in the street that day, to be a boy, to fight and play, I surrendered to a life not right for me.
Church, college, and career led me directly to the grand prize of life in a conservative southern country club, a cast of cookie-cutter characters, and its just within reach commercial and corporate compensations. The boat, the car, the horse, the club measures my value in the group. Indeed the class system was designed to drive competition, sustain the economy, and to position the United States of America as the #1 Consumer in the World.
Why, then, has America over $21 Trillion in debt, lost its AAA credit rating, and stealing from its own welfare system to make the minimum payments on its credit cards? Well, perhaps, its the house, the car, the horse, and the club who’ve come to call with a reminder that behind all the buying their must be some building, too. We can no longer afford to be creating carbon copies of our own generation, but must look to our children and their dreams for queues. Indeed, education was not intended to merely pass knowledge, skill or values from one generation to the next, but rather to inspire and promote the creative spirit. We can no longer afford to teach our children how to get a job, all Economists agree, we must teach them how to create one.
We enter to learn but go forth to serve. America’s Education system is ranked #17, according to the OECD, and is today considered merely “average” among our neighbors around the world. Asia, for instance, whose countries rank quite near the top, do so in conjunction with the value proposition of their culture. Creativity and self discipline combined not only into a profundity in the PRC, but to a people who after nearly 4000 years still encourage their children to create – not merely consume – their futures. The Chinese say, “Tomorrow is not intended to look today.” Perhaps it’s okay if the kids seem different, too.