Sunday, November 09, 2008

Daimon. Be present!

In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids' Inner Wildness-Review

The untamed. The creative. The chaotic. The exuberant and non- conforming in the self. The 'Daimon'- that Greek word that Plato asserted "regards the supreme form of soul in us, we must conceive that the god has conferred it upon a guiding genius - that which...lifts us from earth toward our celestial affinity, like a plant whose roots are not in the earth, but in the heavens".
A guiding force and companion as Phillip Pullman illustrates his books His Dark Materials-an inner voice made manifest in an animal that is representative of the individual 'self'.
We all have one but unlike Pullman's we can't see it. It would be better for us if we could- at least we would be able to be in touch with it.

In his book In Defense of Childhood: protecting Kids' inner wildness (2007), Chris Mercogliano refers to this 'daimon' as inner wilderness.
The term makes me remember a book by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild things Are (1964) and how the kid is sent to bed because of being wild. On his travels he meets and interacts with all these wild creatures who gnash there terrible teeth and roll their terrible eyes. Wicked! And so the child's imagination is still going despite being 'grounded.'

Childhood (he traces the history of childhood) is a time when the daimon's presence is harder to ignore, indeed should not be ignored. It should be encouraged, heeded, nurtured so that the individual will find his or her true path in this life.
And yet, everything about today's world is bent on domesticating this wilderness. Childhood is under attack. How is this happening? Why are we letting this happen? How can we protect and nurture the undomesticated in our children (and ourselves)?
These are the themes that run through Mercogliano's book.

Mercogliano is certainly not the first person who has noticed that kids these days live lives that are over-regulated, over protected....cocooned and above all, safe. His book is a synthesis of other people's observations on the topic. (I was disappointed that the educator of all educators John Holt was not mentioned at all. Shocking!)

Basically, we have fixed it so that childhood today is micro managed, "social engineering of the transition from youth to adulthood." Terms such as 'helicopter parenting' imply parenting without trust nor faith in our kids ability to have their own adventures.
We are raising a generation of plugged- in, clued- out,digitalized, hearing impaired kids.
I notice on the bus that youth hold on to ipods and cellphones like babies hold on to their soothers and baby blankies. Even when they are in love they are still checking the text messaging on the cell while they smile up at their boyfriend or girlfriend!
When it comes to the daimon "most adolescents today are entirely other directed--which makes it very difficult to hear the voice of their daimon (156)
Nature deficient disorder, and not enough solitude are two factors that harm the development of the daimon at it's most vulnerable-a time when kids are trying to figure out who they are in this world.
Very disturbing since "the natural world does not judge," to borrow a borrowed quote from the book (116).
When we consider that in the past, great things like sailing ships, managing family businesses were being done by 13 and 14 year olds (Taylor Gatto has written about this in great length) and what we offer instead- squashing youth's natural urge, drive and daring be it with the "shelter of school" or with media and over consumption- it's ugly.
We deprive our kids without even knowing it by limiting their world- we don't even include them in the work of grown ups either.

While the book focuses on children and youth it applies to adults as well. We have to take risks, we have to explore, we have to taste, feel, immerse ours selves in the world, but also take time for solitude and reflection- pay attention.

We-young and old- have everything to lose by not heeding the call of the daimon.

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