Early childhood education should be spelled i-n-d-o-c-t-r-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. This is so because even though we all come into the world hard-wired with preferences, instincts and genetic traits we enter, as John Locke phrased it 225 years ago, tabula rosa, or blank slate. Knowing nothing, the world is presented to us through the lens of the vast army that teaches us including parents, siblings, teachers and the myriad fold with whom we come in contact. We begin by knowing nothing and accumulate facts, knowledge and opinions as we age. There is a vast sea of facts that must be learned that vary from the simple to the sublime and in our earliest years this volume of information is presented in rudimentary and straightforward terms. This is true, that is false; one action is good the other evil.
This presentation of the world is as misleading as it is necessary. Knowing nothing, children must have basic building blocks with which to create a groundwork upon which to build. Subtlety and nuance are for more sophisticated palates than those of preschool aged children and understanding that perception of reality differs mightily between individuals is a concept lost on many an adult. There are those who believe in our ability to describe and converse about true reality, but I am not one of them. I grant that reality exists, but insist that each of us has his own slant on how it is viewed.
The concept of subjectivity was brought to the forefront when I shared some gun violence death statistics via Facebook. A few weeks ago a strong Second Amendment friend of mine had said to me that two thirds of gun deaths in the USA were self inflicted, a statistic that was new to me. Being a skeptic I checked several sources and found multiple credible references confirming this statistic. I learned that typical data for recent years indicates that in the US we have roughly 100,000 gunshot wounds per year, 32,000 deaths but less than 10,000 murders. The vast majority of US gun deaths are self inflicted.
My main reason for sharing these stats was because I found them shocking. I did not know that we had such a high incidence of gunshots (100,000) and while I was aware of the 32,000 number I didn’t know how many of them were self inflicted. I was fascinated by the numbers and wanted to share with friends what I had learned. Of course, guns are a very touchy subject and I received a lot of very subjective responses to what I thought was a mostly objective post. You’d think I’d know better, wouldn’t you?
My little virtual encounter with the politics and passion concerning guns reinforced for me how black and white, how unnuanced, so many of us see our world. One of my trite little sayings is, “I believe in reality, it’s just that none of us has a monopoly on what it really is.” The problem is so many of us think we do. We do know the facts, the truth, the way, the right and those in opposition to us are wrong.
Strong beliefs are important but facts that differ from our world view present us with opportunities to grow. One of the most insidious maladies that the US seems to be suffering from is partisanism. Too many of us refuse to look at all sides of an issue and try to find common ground and work toward pragmatic solutions. Refusing to look at the world from another person’s perspective is juvenile as is flippantly discrediting substantive data. Just because we were indoctrinated with simple concepts as children doesn’t mean that we can’t take our learning, understanding and living to a higher level and the first step towards getting along in peaceful coexistence is giving the other guy a chance to speak without shouting him down simply because his views differ from your own. If we can’t do that I’m afraid we’re all going to be stuck in nursery school till the end of time.