Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Childhood no time for loading up on angst

Before I had kids I thought it was excellent to subvert young minds by indoctrinating them on political issues. Photo / thinkstock
Before I had kids I thought it was excellent to subvert young minds by indoctrinating them on political issues. Photo / thinkstock

I picked up my sensitive sausage from school last week and she was crying. I'd probably forgotten to cut the scratchy label out of her uniform or maybe someone said Minecraft was for nerds. But no. "Mum, the world's about to end! We watched a film about it!" Turns out her class had been shown a short video called Our Story In Two Minutes.

It went a bit like this: big bang, random explosions, DNA, gooey ectoplasms, dinosaurs, monkeys, Neanderthals, cave men (30 seconds). Fire, Stonehenge, crops, rustic plough, rice paddies, hieroglyphics, Parthenon, Great Wall of China, Mona Lisa. (1 minute). Galileo, Da Vinci, Columbus, slavery, industrialisation, Model T Ford, depression soup kitchens, Nazi Germany, grisly pictures of Auschwitz, grisly pictures of Hiroshima, Einstein, JFK, anti-Vietnam protests, Beatles, Neil Armstrong, Berlin Wall, floppy discs, Pac-Man, gay rights, 9/11, lots of pollution, smog, scared looking Asian people with facemasks, tsunami, storms - FURIOUS CELLO MUSIC - random explosions, planets on fire, another big bang.

The End of The World. Whew!

It's weird, but before I had kids I thought it was excellent to subvert young minds by indoctrinating them on political issues so they would not grow up to be apathetic drips. Now I'm not so sure.

I was compulsorily politicised as a child due to growing up in apartheid-era South Africa. My first memory of school is of half-eaten white-bread peanut butter sandwiches curling up in the African sun. We were eating school lunch on a hot day next to a bowl - pale-blue enamel with a navy-blue rim, a cheap camping dish - which was set out in the sun for our leftover sandwiches to be collected and later given to the hungry school staff. (They were black.) That bowl made me feel sick with guilt.

Boohoo, I was a privileged white girl. But what was I supposed to do about it? Knowing about inequality just made me feel more powerless. Kids don't have much of an external locus of control.

Of course, I am grateful my parents' consciousness was raised, grateful we had the author of Biko, Donald Woods, to stay with us, grateful we marched against the tour and all that. But frankly, I also think being aware of the horror of the adult world stuffed me up.

As a kid, I just felt guilty and shitty all the time. I'm not sure that it is productive to put the burden of solving the world's problems on to our children when they are young. It's hard enough coping with the disgrace of human beings as a grown-up, let alone when you're still learning how to tie your own shoelaces.

So I'm happy that my kids' idea of a war crime is still their Mario Wii game getting a scratch. I don't make them watch the news.

Children are not little adults, but some people seem to think they should behave that way, as in the debate over segregating "loud" children on planes and keeping disruptive children out of restaurants.

I prefer Sir Ken Robinson's campaign that we need to just let kids be creative. (It did make me think of Auberon Waugh's observation that English schoolchildren are the best makers of Plasticine worms in the world. "Their early training with Plasticine can make them particularly skilful at rolling their own cigarettes in later life.")

Help! I've just realised this column is being published the week our school is voting for its board of trustees and I've put my name forward.

Not sure this will aid my chances but may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I think encouraging kids to be freely creative, and even noisy and disruptive, is more likely to lead to answers to our global problems.

Giving them nightmares about global warming might make them feel it is all hopeless, as well as guilty over every Anchor milk bottle we buy.

Sir Ken in his much-watched TED talk says kids will take a chance and are not frightened of being wrong. That daring might be what saves the world.

Teacher: "What are you drawing? Little Girl: "I'm drawing a picture of God." Teacher: "But no one knows what God looks like!" Little Girl: "They will in a minute."

To watch Our Story In Two Minutes visit

- NZ Herald

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