I have had the delectable opportunity to be reading A Story Like the Wind by Laurens van der Post. It is the story of a remarkable 13-year old European boy growing up in Africa. Van der Post uses the story for social commentary on European values as they affect local cultural life in Africa. He begins the book by saying that he is writing it to help Africans recapture their sense of magic and belief in the unknown forces at work in the world, which years of colonization and cultural influence has erased from their memories. He states that life in modern times has taken them far from this way of being in the world.
He also uses the book for commentary about young people and about education. I want to share one particular section with you for it gets at the heart of many young person's experiences (including our own when we were younger) and it gets at the heart of one of the things Listening Sessions are trying to accomplish.
During the story, the 13-year old boy, Francois, has just lost his father. His father had been in a distant location in Africa seeing many European specialists when he had died. They had not understood why he had been sick and could not fathom why he had died.
But Francois, who had grown very close to many Africans working on his father's farm, knew the reason. He had been to an African seer and healer who had divined the reason and then also told him his father had died (before the seer could perform a distance healing on his father). When Francois' mother called the next day to tell him the news, Francois, already aware of the news, became a believer in the "magic" of the Africans.
He also blamed himself for his father's death because he could not get his parents to trust the African ways, as they kept relying on the traditional healing methods that the European doctor's knew. Had he gotten his father to see the African seer and healer, Francois believed his father would have lived. But he had to face the fact that his parents did not trust his inner knowing.
So in a moment of reflection van der Post writes,"The pattern (of only teaching the European values and customs to the Africans and not receiving any of their knowledge and wisdom) was all the more telling because had not he himself (Francois) experienced the agony of always being at the receiving end and so rarely at the point where one was allowed to give something of oneself? This was perhaps one of the greatest burdens of being young; one was always expected to take, and so rarely thought to be in a position... to give as well. And what one had to give, when accepted, once measured in the scales of deliberate values of the grown-up world, appeared trivial."
Francois' belief in the seer and healer had been judged by his adult parents as trivial. In fact, in the book, van der Post wrote that there was a saying amongst the whites in Africa that Africans "are just like children really and must be treated like children." So Francois' belief in the seer and healer was just as childish as the African beliefs.
How many times do we as adults relegate our children to this same status? Does the education system in operation today act from that point of view? Are we teaching our children that their voices are not worthy or to be taken seriously? Are we teaching them that the "magic" they see and experience every day is "trivial?" What happens to young people when we tell them over and over again that their instincts cannot be trusted?
The Listening Sessions are grounded in the belief that children hold an innate wisdom and that given the chance to speak what they see to those who will listen, they have truths to share that we can learn from and which speak to something within us that as adults, we may have long forgotten. As each Listening Session evolves, you can visibly see the changes in the students as they realize that their ideas, their heart's desires are going to be contributing a future change in education. The idea that their voice means something, can contribute something, can give back something is very powerful. Many students have awakened to a side of themselves that has been dormant for many years during the Listening Sessions.
The first offering of young people at the end of a Listening Session is to say, "Thank you." They always say, that despite education commanding a significnt amount of their life's hours each day, no one is asking them about their experiences or their ideas for making their learning experience more meaningful.
Yet when you sit and listen to their answers to the questions we ask and you listen to their ideas for changing education, there is much wisdom that their young hearts carry. What also comes through is that there is a deep thirst for their elders to "see" them and welcome them more fully into the circle of humanity.
When the time is right, the wisdom in their stories will travel like the wind around the country and the earth and awaken our own deep courage to help guide the co-creation of a new learning experience.