Believing in the Echo
In a This I Believe – RI segment on WRNI, Jim Stahl, the former publisher of the children’s magazine, Merlyn’s Pen, talks about the creative wisdom of children. Me, I don’t believe this notion of the wise youth. Almost by definition, wisdom is impossible for the young.
To the extent that children seem wise, it is not creative but recitative. They’re simplifying and reflecting what we’ve taught them — often with their own unique twist, to be sure, but not with an insight unavailable to adults.
Consider a poem from his magazine, of the thumb-in-the-eye-of-God variety, that Stahl offers as an example. He says:
In hundreds of classrooms that read this poem, discussions took off, all of them launched by the words of one creative teen.
With the poem’s authorship a generation after John Lennon had sung that “God is a concept by which we measure our pain,” I’d suggest the somewhat different perspective that it was a hit because a Baby Boomer publisher thought it provocative and an army of boomer teachers thought it was subversive to teach it, utilizing the classroom to reinforce or subvert cultural norms taught in the home — all with the perfect comfort of a groupthink attack on a safe target.
Stahl goes on to advocate for an escalation of our appreciation of smart and creative kids to a level similar to our celebration of star athletes, and with that I agree. In the context of schools, however, we run into the problem that challenging children who are advanced academically, rather than athletically, takes time and resources — at a minimum, hiring an adult competent to direct a discussion of Moby Dick, say, or to create an insightful presentation of current events, providing a context that the students inevitably lack. As we’ve witnessed to tragic degree in Rhode Island, the resources that might be thus allocated are apt to be sucked up into teacher contracts or mandated for use on special needs children.
And then there’s the ideological problem. One gets the impression, as from the single example highlighted from Stahl’s entire career as a publisher, that those who might advocate for the encouragement of teenage creativity have a decided preference for smart kids to come to particular conclusions. The really smart kids will discern those conclusions to be wrong, but most will follow them into their destructive circularity.