Loss of Childhood

Technology Brings Formalized Learning and the Commercialization of Creativity, Arts and Music

Children are vulnerable. Where there are wars, it might not be they who are targeted, but all too often they are the ones being killed. When the environment is destroyed, they will be the ones suffering as a consequence. And when products are sold made by underage workers, the children are the ones exploited by our choices.

Today’s dangers to children go far beyond these traditional problems. And paradoxically, it is in the developed societies, in other ways, so aware of the education of the young, that the earliest negative effects are being revealed: Well-educated  youths become juvenile delinquents, sexual abuse is committed by underage children, and severe social deficiencies persist in the wider society, issues which – at least in the rates seen today – were unknown in our communities just a short while ago. We used to think these problems remote, in far away countries with child-soldiers.

Today these issues are also ours. How has this happened?

Part of it has to do with the loss of boundaries in the world of cyber space, between the concrete and the virtual, an evolution however shaped by real dangers.

As virtual toys – educational computers, game consoles, Internet spaces reserved for children – become more and more trendy, human connections become weaker. After kidnappings like “Ylenia” or “Madeleine McCann,” many conscientious parents no longer let their children play outside. Reality and the outside world are frightening. But when both parents work, the virtual world, the Internet and the game consoles seem like a miraculous solution.

However escaping into virtual reality is not harmless and a child’s room can become a dangerous place. He may be sheltered from the violence outside, but in a paradoxical way, virtual reality can be even more dangerous, with inappropriate “friends” in virtual spaces, whose identity, like an avatar in the virtual world Second Life, is invented, and potentially dangerous.

In fact, as social life moves towards the virtual world, there will be increasingly heavy consequences. One toy for children as young as 6, is described as a “virtual world online,” where a girl can “join a community, create a character, organize her own room, go shopping with virtual money, play games, and chat with other girls.” But, there are no real children in the cyber world, only imitations. So what is she learning?

Toys today give form to children’s natural evolution: There are toys designed  “to help a baby make the transition from the sitting to the upright position” (a slide with “ergonomic” balls, where one must stand up to place the balls), “to motivate children to dance and move around” (an electric doll, which sings “one step forward, one step back, stand up, sit down, …” when you push the button), to train them to take responsibility (a mechanical stuffed dog, which grows when being petted or given a plastic bone for 4 days in a row), or teach girls how to do their hair and act like “well developed girls” with mini-skirts, pulpous lips and a torrid look. All in the catalogues, for age 6 and up.

Due to this formalization of learning, children are led along a pre-set path. As parents are absent, they do what their toys, real and virtual, suggest. While the parents, to assuage their consciences, buy more pedagogic toys.

The result: Things that should not be on the market – things like creativity, theater and music, art, story telling, dancing and singing – become “res commercium.” Children don’t draw anymore, but instead put balls on pre-formed plastic forms picturing an animal or a star, to create square and pre-traced images. The creativity is limited to the choice of colors.

As Voltaire already understood in the 18th century, “Education develops faculties but doesn’t create them.” Now we must go further: Such an education kills talent, creativity and imagination – everything that makes a child a child.

 

Niklaus Meier, a Sergeant in the Swiss Army, is a lawyer in Zurich and also works as a translator for both weapons systems and toy manufacturers. This article is taken from a presentation at the Conference on Children in Crisis, hosted by the International Relations Department of Webster University Geneva in February, 2008.

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