Asperger individuals will recognize basic hunter-gatherer values as “normal,” especially respect for childhood autonomy and freedom to play, which is essential to young animals. Play is often touted by child experts as key to child health, and yet modern social humans ruthlessly quash this natural animal behavior.
How Children Educate Themselves III: The Wisdom of Hunter-Gatherers
Trimmed for length. Full article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/children-educate-themselves-iii-the-wisdom-hunter-gatherers/
“For hundreds of thousands of years, up until the time when agriculture was invented a mere 10,000 years ago, we were all hunter-gatherers.” (No “we” weren’t! Our ancestors were. Modern social humans are the product of agriculture-urbanization, which has drastically changed humans via domestication / juvenalization. “AG-URB” behavior has transformed the environments in which we live, for better and worse, and it is to these that we must adapt.
“Our human instincts, including all of the instinctive means by which we learn, came about in the context of that way of life.” (No! Our instincts date back millions of years, before hominids, before primates, before mammals: instincts like fight or flight were present in animals long before our late appearance. Most “learning” by animals is achieved by observation and imitation: “monkey-see, monkey-do” and by trial and error; by practice. In this, we are not different or new, and yet modern educators have abandoned natural learning as “out of date” and cruel and unusual punishment. American education is not about academics; it’s a system of forced socialization.
“And so it is natural that in this series on children’s instinctive ways of educating themselves I should ask: How do hunter-gatherer children learn what they need to know to become effective adults within their culture?”
“In the last half of the 20th century, anthropologists located and observed many groups of people—in remote parts Africa, Asia, Australia, New Guinea, South America, and elsewhere—who had maintained a hunting-and-gathering life…Wherever they were found, hunter-gatherers lived in small nomadic bands of about 25 to 50 people per band, made decisions democratically, had ethical systems that centered on egalitarian values and sharing, and had rich cultural traditions that included music, art, games, dances, and time-honored stories.”
Hunter-gatherer children must learn an enormous amount to become successful adults.
“It would be a mistake to think that education is not a big issue for hunter-gatherers because they don’t have to learn much. In fact, they have to learn an enormous amount. To become effective hunters, boys must learn the habits of the two or three hundred different species of mammals and birds that the band hunts; must know how to track such game using the slightest clues; must be able to craft perfectly the tools of hunting, such as bows and arrows, blowguns and darts, snares or nets; and must be extraordinarily skilled at using those tools.”
“To become effective gatherers, girls must learn which of the countless varieties of roots, tubers, nuts, seeds, fruits, and greens in their area are edible and nutritious, when and where to find them, how to dig them (in the case of roots and tubers), how to extract the edible portions efficiently (in the case of grains, nuts, and certain plant fibers), and in some cases how to process them to make them edible or increase their nutritional value. These abilities include physical skills, honed by years of practice, as well as the capacity to remember, use, add to, and modify an enormous store of culturally shared verbal knowledge about the food materials.”
“In addition, hunter-gatherer children must learn how to navigate their huge foraging territory, build huts, make fires, cook, fend off predators, predict weather changes, treat wounds and diseases, assist births, care for infants, maintain harmony within their group, negotiate with neighboring groups, tell stories, make music, and engage in various dances and rituals of their culture. Since there is little specialization beyond that of men as hunters and women as gatherers, each person must acquire a large fraction of the total knowledge and skills of the culture.”
The children learn all this without being taught.
“Although hunter-gatherer children must learn an enormous amount, hunter-gatherers have nothing like school. Adults do not establish a curriculum, or attempt to motivate children to learn, or give lessons, or monitor children’s progress. When asked how children learn what they need to know, hunter-gatherer adults invariably answer with words that mean essentially: ‘They teach themselves through their observations, play, and exploration.’ Occasionally an adult might offer a word of advice or demonstrate how to do something better, such as how to shape an arrowhead, but such help is given only when the child clearly desires it. Adults to not initiate, direct, or interfere with children’s activities. Adults do not show any evidence of worry about their children’s education; millennia of experience have proven to them that children are experts at educating themselves.
The children are afforded enormous amounts of time to play and explore.
In response to our question about how much time children had for play, the anthropologists we surveyed were unanimous in indicating that the hunter-gatherer children they observed were free to play most if not all of the day, every day.
The freedom that hunter-gatherer children enjoy to pursue their own interests comes partly from the adults’ understanding that such pursuits are the surest path to education. It also comes from the general spirit of egalitarianism and personal autonomy that pervades hunter-gatherer cultures and applies as much to children as to adults . Hunter-gatherer adults view children as complete individuals, with rights comparable to those of adults.
Children observe adults’ activities and incorporate those activities into their play.
Hunter-gatherer children are never isolated from adult activities. They observe directly all that occurs in camp—the preparations to move, the building of huts, the making and mending of tools and other artifacts, the food preparation and cooking, the nursing and care of infants, the precautions taken against predators and diseases, the gossip and discussions, the arguments and politics the dances and festivities. They sometimes accompany adults on food gathering trips, and by age 10 or so boys sometimes accompany men on hunting trips.
The children not only observe all of these activities, but they also incorporate them into their play, and through that play they become skilled at the activities. As they grow older, their play turns gradually into the real thing. There is no sharp division between playful participation and real participation in the valued activities of the group.
Nobody has to tell or encourage the children to do all this. They do it naturally because, like children everywhere, there is nothing that they desire more than to grow up and to be like the successful adults that they see around them. (This requires that adults exist and model successful behavior.) The desire to grow up is a powerful motive that blends with the drives to play and explore and ensures that children, if given a chance, will practice endlessly the skills that they need to develop to become effective adults. (What is the motive in a psychologically neotenic society such as the U.S. for children to become adults?)
What relevance might these observations have for education in our culture?
Our culture, of course, is very different from hunter-gatherer cultures. You might well doubt that the lessons about education that we learn from hunter-gatherers can be applied effectively in our culture today. For starters, hunter-gatherers do not have reading, writing, or arithmetic; maybe the natural, self-motivated means of learning don’t work for learning the three R’s. In our culture, unlike in hunter-gatherer cultures, there are countless different ways of making a living, countless different sets of skills and knowledge that children might acquire, and it is impossible for children in their daily lives to observe all those adult skills directly. In our culture, unlike in hunter-gatherer cultures, children are largely segregated from the adult work world, which reduces their opportunities to see what adults do and incorporate those activities into their play.
And yet, many Asperger children manage to do just this; to learn from unrecognized play – observing, reading, experimenting, collecting objects and information, taking objects apart to see how they work, studying the behavior of plants, animals, thinking about what we see – and analyzing the adult world both past and present. We are called Little Professors (not in a nice way) and derided by “normal” educators, parents, and psychologists as “too adult” – and therefore, developmentally retarded, and bordering on subhuman. Normal development requires social conformity and subservience to hierarchies and permanent child status. Who are the “idiots” in this social equation?