Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Not Me. Ibsen Said it First.

                                                               Henrik Ibsen, web link
They talk faster because they think faster. Than us, that is. They look at a computer monitor filled with complication and interpret it with the sharpness of a pilot distinguishing the shapes and colors he sees 50,000 feet below him. Who? Children.

They write 20-page book reports. I did too! Only they did it in grammar school. Where writing poetry was something I had to discover on my own, they have classes in it 5 and up. And don’t get me started on computer-savvy: intricate computer games with NO instructions, and 200 facebook friends. I don’t even KNOW 200 people. Television images speed by so fast that only THEY can focus. NPR specials on “millionaires under the age of 10.” Little girls playing soccer; with ferocious drive to win.

         Barbie computer game, CD-ROM for PC computer

Even the youngest kid has the instant come-back to flatten whoever bothers them.  When I see a seated child, her little legs stretched out in front of her, too short to reach the ground, pretty pink shoes, and a little white bow in her hair, I give her a big smile because we are allowed to be familiar with children; at least, we used to be. This little one stares me down coldly without moving so much as an eyelid. She lets me know that I have assumed far too much, and I must back down, look away.

Another cute little one in her pink cashmere jacket with a big daisy, and her Barbie backpack, waiting for the subway, vigorously berating her humbled father who stands with head bowed. Apparently she disagrees with his adult judgment, some rule he has set for her, and its consequences.
                           'Sulking Child' by Jez C. Self
                                 website link                 
                                     . . . exactly like this

With glowering eyebrows curved like an archery bow, she accuses him that he is unfair. With all the wisdom of her seven years on earth, her indignation so agitating her little body that she hops from one foot to the other on her pretty patent shoes. At one point she whirls around, as she crosses her arms and shows him her back, to insult him.

Does he say flatly: I am the father, I make the rules, you are the child, you listen to me? No he pleads with her, cedes to her, taking the argument on the terms she has defined, not on his.

Finding myself next to a fifth grader at the dinner table (that’s 10 years old), naturally I looked for common ground by asking if she liked Harry Potter. As you know, I love to talk about Harry Potter. She screwed up her face. I DID, she said-- but that was THIRD grade. Oh no. In an instant I felt so- juvenile.
Sanders, lyneesheritage.wordpress

Two boys in the cafeteria section of Whole Foods, 20 feet apart throwing a ball as customers pass back and forth. Someone manly-looking with a Spanish accent tells the parents to make them stop.

They attempt it feebly, and as the children pay them no attention, they begin to gather up their things and say We have to go.

NO said one boy, I want ice cream. No, we have to go. They continue their packing.
NO I want ice cream. The next thing I know he’s got ice cream. This wasn’t just a case of spoiling; they looked so quiet- so SCARED of him.

What a perfect idiot I was at that age. I didn’t understand human nature, I was stumbling through life. I didn’t understand the finer points of getting along with people, of making decisions, and I certainly had never asked myself what I wanted to do for a living, not until ten minutes after college graduation.

It took my generation of adults a very long time before we began to understand ourselves. It wasn’t until we were already adults before the first self-help books came out, the first how-to television shows and magazine articles, telling us how to follow our noses.
                                                  (cards by Dr. Steven Richfield) **
Our children, on the other hand, were right there learning along with us. They have been raised from scratch in our era of how-to books, television psychiatrists and sarcastic, adult-themed sitcoms. They have parents who spare the rod and reason with them instead. As the child careens down the supermarket aisle, the parent has bent down, begging, coaxing: Now what did we say about listening to me?

You’ve read all this before and I’ve already gone on too much. Complained too much. I haven’t googled the topic but I suspect there are lots of people like me taking great pleasure in knocking this target. I’m taking too much pleasure in it myself.

The children are spoiled, entitled; but then, they do have mastery, real mastery. In fact, they have made this new world. Our world was touchy-feely. Theirs is go and grab. How will I survive in the world they are creating, a world without mercy?
[Created in 1899, Jean Marc Cote's vision of a classroom in the year 2000 illustrates the long history of technological fantasies about education. The students are connected to a network placed on their heads, although they sit at desks in disciplined rows, all faced towards the front, while the teacher feeds them books via a kind of mechanical mincing machine.] picture used by David Buckingham in "Beyond Technology..."

We managed to learn to use a computer instead of a typewriter; but it was people born after, say, 1965 who are agile in a world transformed by internet, social media, etc., new skills that they grew up using. How can we compete with them for jobs- when all the job-descriptions have changed beyond recognition?

On every level, they have mastery. They understand the world far better than I did; they take part in, control and excel in things; and they know that. They are strong mentally and physically. It’s what protects them, what gives them their confidence, their courage.

But I know there is a lot going on below. Beneath the flung insult, a child is hiding his fear. Beneath the bragging, a child’s insecurity. Cold judgment protecting a raw sensitivity. They are, after all, just children. But I have to keep reminding myself of that. Why don’t they ACT like it? WE did.

by Hildegard of Bingen
It’s painfully obvious that I, childless, have far less to gain in the boundlessness of our youth, than do people with children. Through their children, mothers and fathers claim a personal stake in the future. The attainments of their children only make parents stronger themselvesWhereas for me rather than benefit, it’s competition.

There are many older people who are large and generous enough that they, even if childless, take the greatest pleasure in ushering in the new ones, giving them as much of themselves as they can.

They understand that children are everybody's investment, and the more equipped children are, the better the chances for our world. I know such people, their faces always a bit glowing, and certainly beloved. And as a teacher, I suppose that in my way I do the same.

But I can’t help sympathizing with Ibsen’s Master Builder. Solness at middle age is considered the greatest architect in the region. It is significant that he too has no children. His reputation is firmly established:
yalerep website link
. . . Ah, yes, Mr. Solness, you have undoubtedly had the luck on your side.

 [Looking at him with embarrassment.] Yes, but that is just what makes me so horribly afraid. .


Afraid? Because you have the luck on your side!

It terrifies me--terrifies me every hour of the day. For sooner or later the luck must turn, you see.

Oh nonsense! What should make the luck turn?

 [With firm assurance.] The younger generation!

Pooh! The younger generation! You are not laid on the shelf yet, I should hope. Oh no—your position here is probably firmer now than it has ever been.

The luck will turn. I know it--I feel the day approaching. Some one or other will take it into his head to say: Give me a chance! And then all the rest will come clamouring after him, and shake their fists at me and shout: Make room--make room--! Yes, just you see, doctor--presently the younger generation will come knocking at my door—
Tom Sawyer, gutenberg link
[Laughing.] Well, and what if they do?

What if they do? Then there's an end of Halvard Solness.

     [There is a knock at the door on the left.]

 [Starts.] What's that? Did you not hear something? . . .

actor James Carpenter
photo, David Allen website link                                               
. . . Solness’s student Ragner turns into his competition, for a student, unlike a child, cannot extend one’s own glory; the student simply usurps him. It is a chain of conquests: “If Ragnar Brovik gets his chance, he will strike me to the earth. Crush me--as I crushed his father.”

Solness, shamed into giving Ragner a good job recommendation, immediately fires him.

Solness also expresses:

. . . that is why I have locked and barred myself in.
[Mysteriously.] I tell you the younger generation will one day come and thunder at my door! They will break in upon me!

“Thunder at my door!”  Ha! Ibsen as usual hits the nail square on the head. Only Ibsen can get away with so little subtlety, so firmly, yet pull it off so richly.

Ibsen, translator not given:

** Dr. Steven Richfield Parent Coaching cards: actually I'm taking advantage, using this picture to make my privileged suburban American point. In actuality, these cards are not at all what this post is about. The cards are actually used to help counsel children who have been traumatized by terrorist bombings in Israel.
Please comment, below


Anonymous said...

terrific. so true.

Eve Scherr said...

I was afraid I was the only one! Thank you.

The 7 Van Halems said...

Love it and so true! Alas, my younger generation has been banging on my door since 6am and I'm tired.

Laura, in Chicago said...

Bravo, Eve; well said. ...........a lot of truth in this!

the Swede said...

'The correct answer, class, is “That dress makes YOU look fantastic!”'

Sorry young ladies, I've always said it the other way around: "You make that dress look fantastic".

I beg your pardon.

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