Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How prepared are we?

If you’re a visitor to this blog, you’re more than likely to have been on the receiving end of a child’s question that took you out of your comfort zone. I’m not talking about those whimsical enquiries about how babies are made, or why grandma has grown a moustache. I’m thinking more about those questions that cause society to stir and, occasionally, do a double-take. Subject matter that can all too easily be sprung on a grandparent who has only just discovered that Tinie Tempah is a rapper, and not a toddler’s meltdown. Yes, just as you’re giving and receiving uninhibited ‘high fives’, and discovering that ‘cool’ still resonates, even without jazz, a realisation dawns. Your grandchildren are tuning in to your world. They are hearing their first crackling transmissions of adult concerns, being broadcast over the angstwaves.     

Explaining same sex marriages, or the life choices taken by Thomas Neuwirth – alias Conchita Wurst – winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, seems pretty straightforward on the face of it. And it is, until those inevitable follow-up questions arrive in quick succession. Suddenly your well-balanced, duly considered and perfectly reasonable response is sounding a bit lame, and the calm conversational waters you were navigating threaten to become a little choppy.

But children so often come to our rescue. They come with an inbuilt instrument that measures the ability of an adult to communicate coherently. Listening intently to the stalled sentences, they stare wide-eyed, waiting for the hint of an answer. And when the stammering is over, they return to whatever preoccupied them beforehand, leaving you never fully knowing if they’re inwardly celebrating with a fist pump, or just picking up the threads of the Scooby-Doo story on TV.

I'm off for a think. I may be gone some time...

Some people have maybe taken things too far in trying to furnish children with solid perspective on the world at large. I was surprised to discover that Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish philosopher, had made a number of radio broadcasts for children, between 1929 and 1932, covering such topics as human responses to natural disasters, along with capitalism and its negative impact on the living conditions of the poor. His idea was for children to challenge clichés. In my experience, this is something they manage to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, with minimum assistance from us.

8 comments:

  1. Well said. Although, as with your subject, more questions than answers...

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    1. Thanks, English Rider. More questions than answers - isn't that just kids, all over?

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  2. Hang on, Grandma has a moustache? (Just kidding. Well put. I'd be interested in hearing those original broadcasts.

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    1. Kat, how's your German? http://ubu.com/sound/benjamin.html

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    2. Nicht so gut. (I did that without Google though.)

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  4. I can provide anyone who wants one with a written explanation of the moustache thing, just to save them the trouble if they get asked. (£34.99 for this is a bargain.)

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    1. You have the face of an English teacher, and the mind of a criminal genius, Fran. Cut me in?

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