Editor’s Notebook

February 28, 2013
Gordon Thomas

Opening doors to the future

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (1940)

“Childhood is a short season,” American actress Helen Hayes once observed. And today, childhood seems even shorter than it was when I was growing up in Lethbridge in the 1950s and ’60s.

Back then, I played outside (we had access to only a few television channels); I learned woodworking (a skill I have to this day); I rode my bike around town (without a bike helmet); and during the summer, I’d disappear from home after breakfast to spend the entire day playing with friends until called in for dinner. Unlike today’s parents, mine did not orchestrate every minute of my day, and they certainly didn’t have a phobia that I’d injure myself riding my bike or climbing playground equipment.

Although my childhood does not compare to the childhood of 2013, that’s not to say that it was simpler and lacked challenges; it’s just that it was not evolving at warp speed the way childhood seems to be evolving today. My generation grew up with woes and worries, and we sensed our parents’ anxieties over events and trends that were much bigger than they were: atom bombs; the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassination of John F. Kennedy; sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll; the Vietnam War; Beatlemania; and the October Crisis.

Is today’s childhood really so different from mine? In many ways, I think it is. Growing up today is bewildering because technological advancements have opened the world to developing young minds and linked billions of people worldwide like never before. Being connected means receiving simultaneously contradictory messages and influences from friends, foes and strangers (not just family, close friends, the neighbourhood school and church, as in years gone by). The recklessness with which young people naively abdicate their privacy by transmitting their personal information or that of others on social media has been linked to incidents of cyberbullying, some of which have ended with the suicide of the person bullied.

Nothing is sacred these days, and all information is a potential online weapon.

Today’s kids are bombarded by media messages about body image. They are expected by their friends to be available online 24/7 and are subjected to pressures of the modern family (single, married, gay or lesbian parents) to excel in school, despite dire predictions of fewer jobs (thanks to technology and robots), fewer opportunities for long-term and steady employment, and fewer benefits, such as universal health care, company pensions and government social programs.

This issue of the ATA Magazine features an eclectic collection of articles that touch on evolving childhood, such as the Slow Movement, the alienating effects of technology, child poverty and childhood obesity, video games as educational tools, the creativity of children and youth, and the importance of nature—wilderness—in students’ lives.

Today’s kids may seem like unapproachable, enigmatic, uncaring and narcissistic creatures inhabiting a wilderness that no grown-up would dare venture into. Adults can’t relate to them, parents don’t understand them and their eyes are always glued to those damn screens!

But that is far from the whole picture. Though the world has changed a lot, in some ways it hasn’t. Kids are still kids, and they still need to feel safe, valued and wanted. And if the articles written by students Kwabena Amoh and Lauren Fremstad are any indication, there’s much to hope for.

And as always, teachers can take credit for keeping their foot in the door to let the future in.