Six years ago I took my first college course on education. It is a course that is mandated for lead teachers of ECE in my state. In that class I was posed this question for the first time:
“Do you believe that children are basically good, or basically evil?”
There weren’t a lot of answers to that question the day that it was posed to us, or any other day after that. This question is philosophical at its core, and I’m not sure that a lot of people take the time to really think about the implications of the question. But having thought about it myself, I have realized that this little question shapes what we do in the classroom, our expectations of children, and how we treat them.
This is probably the most important question that teachers can ask themselves.
A few days after the question was posed, it was posed again. And I answered that children are basically good. This went against any philosophical teaching that I had, because my philosophical background taught that people are generally evil. They do evil things and think evil thoughts. However, as someone who was going into the teaching profession, I refused to say that children were basically evil. I realized on some level that this answer would shape my teaching practice in an entirely different way than the other answer.
As the years have gone by and I have shaped my teaching practices around the idea that children are basically good, I have seen mountains of evidence pointing toward that being the actual case. Children are capable. They are strong. They are resilient. They are curious.
It is our own beliefs and backgrounds that have us paint children as evil or bad. Our own beliefs about how the world is and how children should behave in it skew our viewpoint, so that when we see these traits in children we label them as bad. It is time that we come up with new labels for children, like curious, capable, and strong.
The most interesting thing about these labels is, when we begin to use them we start seeing them more frequently in more and more children around us. And we also begin to see them in ourselves, because we are looking for them all around us.
I urge my fellow teachers to think about this question and the implications of it in the classroom. Think about which answer your own teaching reflects. Think about the qualities you see in children and how you really want to see children. Ask yourself, are children good or bad?