I haven’t been able to stop looking at this picture for the past couple of days.
A woman in suburban New Jersey posted it on social media Friday evening. She said a pregnant deer had come to her back yard a few hours before and given birth to two fawns. The new mother appears to be exhausted, but she’s cleaning her babies as they start learning about their world.
Sunday afternoon, I was in a Walmart checkout line behind a tall blonde woman with one of the tiniest babies I’ve ever seen. The baby girl was strapped into a sling that kept her tightly attached to her mother’s body.
The little girl was only 2 weeks old, but she already seemed to be aware of my presence right next to her. Her big blue eyes seemed to be absorbing everything around her as they stared up at me.
As I walked out of the store, I made the connection between the deer and the new mother in the store. In both cases, I felt as though I was seeing a miracle.
Nobody taught the deer how to give birth or how to take care of her newborn fawns. Nobody had to teach the mother I saw to love her baby and to fiercely protect her. Nature somehow gave the deer and the woman the instinct to love and nurture their offspring.
(Yes, there is the rare mother — in the animal world and in the human world — who rejects her offspring, but in the vast majority of cases, nature equips mothers to take care of their young.)
I can’t stop thinking about this as a miracle — this idea that nature somehow equips us to know what to do and how to move forward. Modern people have been programmed to believe that everything has to be planned and engineered if we want positive results, but Mother Nature has a way of reminding me that she’s already thought of what we’re trying to figure out in many cases.
From our earliest years, we’re told that we have to plan our futures — what kind of jobs we want, what sort of formal schooling we will receive, what sort of organized activities will expose us to people who can help us, what sort of neighborhoods we want to live and even how we will take care of ourselves in retirement.
Our lives are quickly formal and structured. We soon spend all day in buildings where we learn to obey authority and learn to memorize the facts which those authority figures tell us we must know. We play when we’re told. We sleep when we’re told. We learn to judge ourselves according to how well we’re meeting the expectations of our authority figures.
The least important person in this entire process called “education” is the one who is learning to run on this regimented treadmill.
This system of training the young was put into place because it served the needs of governments and industry. It allowed governments to mold young minds to be obedient and not question the moral concepts of those governments. (Have you ever noticed that children in pretty much every system learn to believe their country’s government is the best form in the world?) It allowed businesses to hire young workers who had been taught the basics they would need for the industrial work world — by teaching those workers to be obedient and follow orders for rewards.
I grew up in such a system. You almost certainly did, too.
We learned to follow rules. We learned to fit into boxes that other people made for us. We learned that people are rewarded for obeying the system — and for winning the games the system gave us to play. Those who got good at those games were rewarded well, because their efforts served the needs of the people who set up the games.
Playing those games — in childhood and adulthood — is a good way to be rewarded, but it’s a terrible way to find meaning in life. What’s more, it’s not a path that leads to people who can change the world.
Those who grow up to do world-changing things today usually do so in spite of their schooling, not because of it. That’s not because teachers are bad people or that they aren’t dedicated to their jobs. It just means the system of schooling we have is flawed and out of date.
Both of my parents started out as teachers. My mother spent her entire career as a teacher. Both of my parents loved teaching, so I grew up with a healthy respect for the school system that I was part of.
But when I look back at where I learned things, I realized that I learned almost everything on my own. I learned whatever seemed interesting to me. I didn’t learn things because a textbook said it was time to learn it. My instincts led me to the things that interested me — and then I figured out what other things grew out of those subjects.
For me, the system that would have worked best is called unschooling.
I recently read a book called “How Children Learn,” by John Holt, and it had a profound effect on me. (Click the link. I strongly recommend you read it.) It gave me intellectual and psychological structure for some of the things I had already figured out — and it solidified my belief that putting children into traditional schooling is preparing them for the 20th century, not their actual futures.
Nature teaches us a lot more than we realize. We certainly are right to supplement our instincts with special classes and learning opportunities when we want and need them. But I’ve concluded very strongly that we fail children when we just turn them over to “school specialists” for 13 years of their lives.
There are more and more people now who choose unschooling. I’m going to put a TEDx talk by a Cambridge University Ph.D. student who was unschooled for most of her pre-college education. There are many such interesting videos online from students who were unschooled and became fascinating folks because of it.
I get emotional when I see the way nature prepares women to be mothers. I got emotional watching the mother with her baby this afternoon and I’ve been emotional looking at this picture of the deer and her fawns.
I’m amazed at the instincts that nature gives us. The longer I live, the more I think we are wise when we trust those instincts instead of listening to the deep programming that we got to prepare us for an industrial world that no longer exists. I think the people who change the world in positive ways are going to be those who jump off the hamster wheel of chaotic modern life and live in much simpler ways.
I don’t think life has to be as difficult as we sometimes try to make it. I think we really know what we want far more often than we want to admit. I think we’re happier and we achieve more when we listen to what our instinct tells us — and forget about living in the boxes that other people have made for us.