Anarchy 43/Stunted to school

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to school


It seems strange to me that people should fight so hard, and so rightly, over edu­ca­tion for chil­dren from five up­wards—prim­ary, second­ary, uni­ver­sity—and not care at all what has hap­pened to the child before this.

  For their first five years, thou­sands of our chil­dren are un­able to grow. They live in flats—new flats—where their mothers have to keep all win­dows per­man­ently locked be­cause the child might climb and fall to the con­crete ground; where the bal­con­ies, the only nearby play-space, are also kept per­man­ently locked be­cause the walls have been built too low; where the inside walls and floors are so thin, and let so much noise through, that chil­dren cannot run across the floor to greet their father when he comes home from work; where mothers walk round and round the block with the baby in the pram and the small chil­dren hang­ing on to the pram handle be­cause father, who is work­ing nights, is asleep; where the chil­dren who cannot play up­stairs cannot play down­stairs either be­cause the mother—eight or nine stories up—cannot see them, or get to them quickly when they need her, and dan­ger­ous traf­fic runs nearby.

  It is, ironic­ally, the grad­ual real­isa­tion that there must surely be a better, saner, hap­pier, more hu­man way of liv­ing than this, that will fin­ally break the ban on nurs­ery school build­ing. Mothers cannot go on like this much longer. I heard re­cently of one who ar­rived hys­ter­ical at a nurs­ery school that was al­ready filled to capa­city, and said if they would not take her chil­dren she would aban­don them; they took them—and now she has begun to have joy in them.

  So mothers come to the nurs­ery school with chil­dren whose in­fant edu­ca­tion has al­ready been stun­ted by their en­vir­on­ment, and those of them who are lucky enough to get in—how piti­fully in­ad­equate the num­ber is—begin to grow.

  They have space, they have a tran­quil and in­ter­ested love, they have time, the long time of child­hood, that is abund­antly theirs, they have ac­cess to the basic things—sand, water, earth, grass, and clay, with a flow­ing chan­ging un­cramped sky above—and they begin to make rela­tion­ships, to ap­pre­ciate first them­selves and then other people as unique hu­man beings. They begin to make pat­terns of casual co-oper­at­
ing that is very beauti­ful to see, like ballet.

  And their parents too begin to grow. In nurs­ery schools, parents are wel­come, parents are part of the whole edu­ca­tional vision. There are no notices in nurs­ery schools that say “Parents may not come beyond this point.” They are not kept out­side the gates while their chil­dren scream for them. They come in with the chil­dren, and they stay, and they talk and watch and dis­cuss and won­der. The real­isa­tion comes to them that it is pos­sible to re­joice in a child’s laugh­ter, a child’s dan­cing, a child’s ex­plor­ing, a child’s de­velop­ing skills, a child’s grow­ing in­de­pend­ence, a child’s glee. All these things, which had been so twist­ing them with anxi­ety and anger, for they saw them only as a threat, be­cause their en­vir­on­ment had be­come more im­port­ant to them than the child, they begin at last to see as the hu­man herit­age. They sud­denly see that to be­have like this—joy­ously, spon­tan­eously, curi­ously—is pos­sible. Nothing dread­ful hap­pens. The sky does not fall. Their chil­dren are happy, not de­praved. And then they see that what is wrong is their en­vir­on­ment, the way they are liv­ing. And this they will then begin to change.

  Then we will have homes where chil­dren can play toge­ther, where they can have cats and rab­bits, where they can dance and sing with­out guilt. We will have as many nurs­ery schools as mothers need, be­cause small chil­dren, even in the best of homes, need a bridge into the out­side world. And then the child­ren will not come al­ready stun­ted to the prim­ary schools.