An Ecological Perspective on Respecting Children

In modernity, we like to think we know what a beautiful garden looks like, that we might come in and “fix” the land to be more like our conception of natural beauty. Usually, this idea of beauty is based off of someone else’s garden, someone’s garden we wish was our own. And we worry about what others will say if we don’t trim the trees, cut the grass, chase out the “undesirable” animals and insects; in other words, we worry people will judge us for not taming the land. We somehow think it’ll be better if we choose which plants and animals live and die, without realizing the beauty and importance of each entity in an interconnected eco-system. We’re told by magazines and television shows what to do, how to make the land beautiful, as if they knew our land, as if they knew us…

It’s the same with our children. We’re afraid if we don’t tame the child, we will be judged as bad parents or educators. There is a constant barrage of media telling us how to tame the child and how to cultivate that which is considered “proper” and “beautiful” in children. Sometimes we even fall into the trap of comparing children, thinking that this one should be more like that one. But consider for a moment that each child is like a forest; each child is in a beautiful organic process of growth, change, and loss that are integral to her development. The animals are her emotions. The trees are her talents. The rivers are her energy. Everything is in its’ proper place; everything is supporting everything else.

If you assembled a team of “experts” to maximize the efficiency of the forest, the arborist might tell you to cut down this tree or that tree, saying it will be better to let more sunlight through here or there. The biologist might say to trap and kill this or that animal, since there may seem to be an issue with population control in that season. The hydrologist might suggest building a dam here or there, to reserve water at this or that elevation. How can they know better than the forest itself? How can they be sure that their interference is in the interest of the forest and not a projection of their own desire, well intentioned or otherwise, to control and preserve that which they think is most important? No matter how much they think they know, no team of experts will understand the unique process of the forest as well as the forest itself. This is because forests, like children, are unique and special.

We approach the wild and our children as if they need saving, as if without our “assistance” they would simply crumble and blow away in the wind. But they are strong, stronger than people give them credit for. The land and the children are resilient entities; they respond to challenge by growing, by evolving, by becoming more capable, not the other way around. Even the elements of the forest that are dangerous are beautiful and important in their own right. The mountain lion and the poison ivy serve a purpose; to exterminate them would be to damage the eco-system even if it made the forest appear “safer.” If we tame the wild, if we tame our children, we do them a great disservice, for they were perfect all along; their virtues stem from their authenticity, from their natural state of being.

Have you ever found yourself in the wilderness, seated quietly, listening to the sounds of nature and felt overwhelmed by its’ perfection? That everything was working cooperatively, everything was taking care of itself, and it didn’t require any human management whatsoever? This is the exact feeling I have when I am at The Open School, or any place where children are allowed to have freedom and to be themselves. They are strong, they are resilient, they are always learning, they take care of themselves, and they don’t need to be compelled by an adult. They don’t need to be landscaped, they don’t need to be sprayed with chemicals, they don’t need to be raked and weeded and trapped and manicured. We can never own the land and we can never own a child. Like the forest, we serve children best by sitting with them, by appreciating them, and by witnessing the beauty in all aspects of their natures.

Let the land be wild. Let the children be free.

Written by Co-Founder and Staff Member Ben Page

Forests and Children

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