When a baby is born, we talk quietly, slowly, we smile, we rejoice, we articulate, we give the baby some space to respond. And the baby responds, pursing lips as if that word was to come out already. We give it our love, the joy of words.
The baby will answer later. We speak briefly and clearly, because our words have meaning. We want to understand each other. We teach it that words connect us, but they also have their own power. When we frown, something is wrong.
All our lives, we talk to children nicely so that they learn to communicate politely and effectively. We listen and we respond. We learn to respect each other. Soon we have to respect each other’s opinions, not always the same. We often suppress our own ego, so that the little person, very quickly a person, can think critically, try to disagree. We explain all the phenomena of the world around us to children, educating them.
Current neuropsychology teaches us that positive behaviour, which is so normal for us when interacting with young children, builds neural pathways that we strengthen with repeated positive experiences. Such very ordinary, loving, positive behaviour will be the basic building block for the optics our children will look at the world through in the future. We will not protect them from adversity. However, we can give them a tool so that later these neural connections protect them from the cold, sometimes cruel adversity of the world.
To survive, our ancestors had a deeply embedded survival algorithm, an instinct that says run, attack. It has remained deep within us to this day, and it sometimes emerges even in situations that we can deal with differently. Finding other strategies for dealing with situations is a prerogative of us humans. It is lifelong learning because none of us knows what situation we will find ourselves in tomorrow, in an hour, in a few minutes. This is not a school where we have to memorize multiplication tables, poems, selected words, types of plants. This is a school of culture and life in a family and the society. Although, of course, the multiplication table also belongs to it after all.
Each of us subconsciously longs to be part of a society, agroup, or tribe, because that’s how our survival strategy was formed. Every nation has its own culture, i.e. its own customs, traditions, language, history, values and beliefs. We want our children to be a part of it, to be protected, accepted, loved by this society. That is why we teach them the language of our “tribe”, its rules. Along with our intervention, children receive all the tools that should enable them to survive in life right from the moment they are born.
The world is a good place for children. We assure them that society loves them, and so it is natural and right. We want them to know how to say thank you, to lend, and to help. We teach them respect for each other, respect for elders, respect for nature, respect for the weak, … . Because that is our culture.
The research of the last decades shows that the best tool for our brain and learning as such is variability. These are small changes that we experience. Thanks to which we learn the variability of possibilities that can arise in the world. It can be small changes, like walking new paths, reading a new fairy tale before bedtime. Bigger changes like visiting new places, meeting new people. Even acquired abilities such as walking, moving around, are dependent on what network of small movements we have created in the brain. Only these little things combine into a larger whole. The diversity of the surrounding world is the most important learning tool for children. Today, no one doubts that children need enough stimuli in order to develop. At the same time, the society has always felt, and today also expertly describes, how important it is to convey these stimuli to children in a loving environment. A child’s and eventually an adult’s brain loses its ability to learn when in stress, losing his or her ability to creatively solve problems, make rational and empathetic decisions. Then the aforementioned instinctive stress reactions of escape, attack come to the fore.
With the arrival of critical thinking (children already have more experiences that they begin to compare), it becomes more and more difficult for children to protect themselves from fear and anxiety. We explain, we encourage. We are trying to alleviate concerns. We want children to experience everything the world has to offer, so that they are not stopped by worries and fears. We want to offer them the entire diversity of this world as if seen from a ringside seat. To better prepare them for the future. A higher level of critical thinking is there to protect them.
It seems to be a matter of course. Nevertheless, this is where our society and our culture begins to hit its own limits. A nagging BUT emerges within us. Our own fears and limitations that we may often be unaware of begin to show. Children have so-called “mirroring neurons”. Their job is to copy our behaviour. There is a good reason why people say that children are our mirrors. The task of these neurons is to further speed up and multiply the learning process. It is not enough to teach children in schools, we really have to live what we want them to grow up in. Children acquire an overall approach to life thanks to these neurons. As long as parents actively participate in the events around the world, children can take this approach as their own. On the contrary, the approach quite typical of Slovakia – the feeling of victimhood – is adopted as a pattern of behaviour passed from one generation to another, until it creates a kind of collective culture of victimhood and a sense of injustice of the world.
It is the variability of the environment in which we need to meet the elderly, the sick, the poorer, the babies, the pregnant, the non-pregnant, the rich, the educated, the uneducated, the white, the red, the tall, the small, the blue, the green, that allows us to perceive the world realistically and empathetically. Our children learn from someone, they mirror someone.
Our brain is constantly learning, perceiving everything around as an experience and records it down indiscriminately. Information received without an emotional, cultural context will be recorded with great effort and strain. Education cannot be separated from culture. The brain simply does not work that way. Still, we adults seem to be trying. School is for learning, vacation for experiences, cultural events for lifting the mind. And, at the same time, it works in such a way that we learn a certain culture at school, we learn new information with every cultural experience, a lot of small experiences happen every day at home, we observe the people around us everywhere, and look in the mirror. And yet we have a separate Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education. There are school trips to visit cultural institutions, or vice versa.
Only we, the parents and the people who live with our children, can connect this chaos at this moment. We must be their guides. We must live culturally, tolerantly, and diversely.
The Kultúrny kyslík (Cultural Oxygen) project was supported from public funds by the Culture Support Fund as the main partner.