by Ben Page, Open School co-founder
July 3, 2018
“The way we talk to our children become their inner voices.” ~ Peggy O’Mara
It should be self-evident that children internalize what they hear. Think about your own view of yourself — how much of it is rooted in what was reflected back to you as a child? Many people believe they cannot sing because they were told their voice was ugly. Many people believe they are not creative because they were told their art was imperfect. Many people believe they are unintelligent because they did not get all A’s. Many people believe they are unworthy of love because they were so repeatedly traumatized by rejection.
Think about the environment your child is in when they go to school. For a moment, forget about the curriculum, the content of what they are learning, and ask yourself about the environment itself. Is it a place where your child is told every day that they are powerful, self-directing learners who are capable of making healthy and wise choices for themselves? Or are they told they are somehow imperfect unless they are faster, smarter, stronger, more this and more that?
One of the incredible things about The Open School is that the inner voices that are being cultivated are what adults wish their inner voices sounded like. Because they are treated with respect, the children learn to respect themselves. They might ask a question like, “What should I do today?” and the answer will be, “Whatever you think is the best use of your time.” When I hear this, I imagine that 20 years in the future, these children are saying it to themselves and they are out in the world doing what they love because they have been taught that kind of confidence.
And then I think about what I’ve overheard in traditional school settings and I understand why so many people struggle to accept themselves. The message of “not being enough” extends from the valedictorian to the drop out, and no matter how much is achieved, the internalized belief persists.
Think about what your child hears every day at school. You might say to yourself, “children need discipline” and think that this excuses the manner of speech that is commonplace in traditional classrooms. And think about the more subtle messages of grades and assessments, how they might also be communicating something about the worth of your child, the brilliant human being that is a part of your family. Consider the messaging of a system that inherently believes your child is not worthy of freedom or intelligent enough to participate in the governance of that community. What kind of an inner voice is this all cultivating?
I invite you to imagine what an inner voice would sound like if a child grew up hearing that she was smart, could learn anything, could choose the life that would make her most content and not feel compelled to apologize for being herself. What kind of a life flows forth from such inner courage and strength?