Selfometer Articles

Burdening our children with history!

by B M Oldfield, 2007

I believe that modern man has so far failed to mitigate many of the social inequalities left by past wars, actions and other conflicts. It has also failed to resolve the economic inequalities fostered by modern history and issues such as the ongoing, unbelievable and despicable exploitation and slavery of young children. Today, for example, there are still millions of street children in every city in the world and other children being bought and sold for the sex trade, the domestic slave trade and for all manner of other menial work. These are the repetitive failures of human history and I will argue that the failure to stop this ongoing social strife is in part due to the failure of adults to take responsibility for and learn from the development of their personal and social history.

Throughout history we have also failed to protect the personal and social lives of children and young people. Sadly, it is a cyclical process in which adults themselves are a product of their parents and even their grandparent's failure to take responsibility for their personal and social historical past. This is a cycle, which needs to be broken, in order to stop the repetitive and ongoing upheavals and deadly consequences that result.

Social progress remains a priority for all societies. A starting point should be to strengthen the family unit through a variety of support systems including education for both parents and children. This education should be able to provide expertise knowledge and skills, which support all positive aspects of the psychological, biological and social developmental needs, of children from all backgrounds.

However, the theme remains that adults are living far too much in the past, almost obsessively and, living in a recycled past. Religion is a classic example of the recycling of ancient history, beliefs and ways of thinking and, even of living. This recycling of the past fails to properly inform each successive generation what their history or future could be!

Many adults are truly ignorant about the true development of their historical past due to poverty, the lack of an appropriate education, which can be confounded by the pervasiveness of religion and it's underlying self-obsession. Education needs to be more widely and freely available and should focus on teaching our children what can be learnt from the past. Education, whether it comes from schools, peer groups, parents or religion however, is often based on the recycling of mistakes made rather than teaching our children how to move forward with their lives. In other words, children and parents alike need to be able to learn, how to use the positive aspects of our vast accumulated knowledge so that, our children can learn how to live within present times and, not rebel against it.

Religion and evolution are examples of how adults concentrate on the past, as a way of finding their human identity and the meaning of our present and future life. Any evidence found for the events associated with religion would not contribute anything that could be relevant or could inform us who we truly are as human beings or how we should cohere as a social group. The history of religion or religion by itself has so far failed to provide any correct information regarding social and adaptation skills. This is especially so regarding the future of our children. Religion may be biased towards the family but it is based solely on religious beliefs, which has no foundation for providing, protecting and supporting any aspect of children's developmental needs.

Evolution on the other hand, tends to look at pre-historic human old bones, hoping, to find evidence of our origins and identity. Evolution has provided a great deal of information, enabling us to make informed choices as to our human identity. Although the subject seems not to give any real substance as to how we should be using the concept of evolutionary 'adaptation' to inform and improve our way of life. This is particularly so regarding the role of, and the effects on children in the evolutionary process

I must stress that evolution is not only a revolutionary way to look at our origins and identity, but is fundamentally the most informative and interesting way to look at how we developed as a human species. It provides a great deal of insight, facts and knowledge to the study of almost every aspect of human enquiries. Examples include, psychology, astronomy, sociology, art, language and history itself. Evolution is a natural and universal historical process and powerfully indicative of modern and ancient human history. The history of religion is only skin-deep while evolution is the core and substantive process of all visible and invisible physical matter.

Of course, each of us has a past, present and future and these are the core 'time' elements of the development of human history and our way of life. These evolutionary time elements are, fundamentally, the way in which we learn to live and, to live with our history, our nature and our environment. As a species we have evolved against our 'timed nature' and have somehow allowed ourselves to be controlled by time rather than, be in control of our time instincts. Hence, we have a multitude of historical studies and other subjects, searching for our human origins and identity, as well as, our ongoing efforts to make our societies better places to live.

The study of history comes in many different forms, from the history of religion and science to a variety of other subjects, which are looked at in terms of the way they have evolved. These can vary from alchemy, cricket, evolution, language, pottery, religion, to national and even international treaties, rights and laws etc.

Generally, however, history is considered a study of past major political and social events concentrating on the variety of reasons for, and the multiple consequences from, war atrocities and the devastating and deadly personal and social upheaval of people's lives. The primary culprits behind such events are usually narcissistic dictators and other inhumane individuals, empires and regimes. Some of the main reasons for such events are often a product of social inequalities based on religious, cultural, economic and/or geographical prejudices. Slavery is a classic example of such inequalities and a subject, which I can claim to have a personal interest.

The consequences of slavery

I spent my growing years living in Guyana in the West Indies where slavery is still an issue affecting economics, politics, religion and education. My parents were descendants in a variety of ways from both the slave trade and the system of indentured labour. My paternal grandfather was British, my paternal grandmother a mixture of African and indigenous Amerindian. My mother was a direct descendant of East Indian indentured labourers. My ancestors were uprooted from their traditional lives in Africa, India and also Britain, both forcefully and involuntarily.

For me, slavery can be defined as; the control, manipulation, abuse and cruelty inflicted on vulnerable people by discriminative narcissistic individuals, groups and their institutions. They do this for the purpose of greed, personal influence and economic gain and by, the bigoted behaviour of dividing people by geography, race, class, religion, gender, age and so on.

As a result of the slave trade, indigenous cultures were destroyed and replaced with repression and heinous cruelty. Most slaves were left with deep-rooted emotional anger on account of the stress involved and from the loss of families and family life, broken homes and identities. Within all of these groups and in varying degrees, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, sons, daughters were killed or lost, in this historical human tragedy. The devastating effects on the lives of millions of people have reverberated to this day with a significant legacy of psychological, economic and social problems.

Conditions for both the slaves and the indentured labourers were indeed despicable. The early indentured labourers were low caste, from Calcutta and recruited for five-year contracts. Like the African slaves many were flogged sometimes to death, hands were often cut off for striking a white man and many were imprisoned. Death rates were relatively high for the indentured labourers. Within a year of the 396 Indians who arrived in May 1838, 48 had died by Jan 1839. Living conditions were very poor, there was no privacy and, medical attention was rudimentary and not always provided. Children themselves were not given food and other rations and, they were left naked till 9 years old. The indentured labourers were allowed to maintain their family groups and their religion while slaves were not.

Some people say that slavery left economic scars on the present West Indian generation. For example, Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the world, is still an agrarian economy based primarily on sugar and rice export, although it does have natural resources particularly timber and gold. It is currently trying to develop an eco-tourist industry. However, to blame the British or any of the other colonial powers that ruled Guyana in the past as being singularly responsible, for the economic and social scars it has today is a little unfair. This is because it fails to consider the complex and developmental variables that led to the tragedy of slavery. In reality it is more to do with human nature, the behaviour between adults and a failure to recognise that all human societies evolve and develop both in time and in circumstances. The British did after all abolish slavery and this move should be applauded.

I believe that the current economic inequalities in parts of the West Indies and Africa may also be confounded by subsequent premature independence, where judicial governments were often replaced, by dictators. Examples include, Burnham in Guyana, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Nkrumah in Ghana.

Economic inequalities were also confounded by, the emotional scars left behind, both on a personal and social level. Whenever or wherever emotional scars happen the effects on children's educational attainment are always negative, which leads to little or no economic progress. At the time of slavery there was little education available to the children of slaves, although as early as 1808 there was some rudimentary education available. Children were taught to read the bible and taught to write. In 1844 however, education became compulsory ten years after the abolition of slavery and the British left an education system in all West Indian colonies. It wasn't until 1880 that elementary education became compulsory in Britain. I am therefore, also inclined to believe that the education system left by the British Empire might have, with time, improved the economic and social conditions of their colonies.

Whether the education system failed or whether the British failed to heal the emotional scars caused by slavery is debatable. The contributing factors are far too complex to lay the blame entirely at the British. For example, many other countries were also involved such as France, Holland, Spain, India and the African countries where many of the slaves originated. Guyana was also run by as many as four different Western countries at one time or another and it was the Dutch who first introduced slaves to Guyana. Also many of the slaves were prisoners traded by their own African people, who captured them during inter-tribal warfare and then sold them on to the Europeans. Slavery was endemic in many African countries prior to the involvement of the Europeans. Responsibilities for any event should look at the multiple and complex factors involved, especially when those who were directly responsible, happen to be deceased.

I am not excusing the British just trying to say that slavery was and is, a complex historical issue, which may or may not contribute to any legacy. The legacy of emotional and other scars are also vulnerable to the subsequent efforts made, if any, to help repair the damage done. Emotional scars can only be healed or reduced by those closest to us and these are usually parents, relatives or other compassionate adults. This was impossible during slavery because there was little or no family life. Only time and successive generations could heal such painful emotional scars.

These scars are also the product of complex human psychology, where some people can cope while others can't, and some may or may not have the support and help they need, in coping. To make matters worse, at the time of slavery, there were no modern facilities to help people deal with psychological trauma. In addition, emotional scars can also become a legacy by adult's inability to protect innocent children from such scars.

Throughout human history we have been laden with wars and conflicts, which have also and inevitably caused broken families. Slavery too, has permeated human history from Biblical days right through to today. It occurred in ancient societies as Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, China, India, Persia, Africa, Mesopotamia, classical Greece and Rome, New World Indians and the Islamic World. It also occurred at the time of Christ where two to three million or 35-40% of the population of Italy were slaves. England's Doomsday book of 1086 says that ten percent of the population were enslaved. During the Middle Ages many of the European and Islamic slaves were Slavic Europeans.

It seems obvious that we cannot get rid of slavery, abuse, cruelty and divisiveness, but it seems that time and the evolution of circumstances can and does eventually get rid of the legacy left behind. Healing can to some degree take place when some form of reparation is applied and, hopefully, should slowly heal the effects from both slavery and wars. The education system left by the British Empire is a positive legacy including the constructive judicial, administrative and democratic systems. The British have always provided and continue to provide a great deal of financial and technical aid to many former colonies, not to mention a host of international bodies and other government and non-governmental organisations.

Cry freedom

That many individuals and groups are blaming Imperialism and the horrors committed by this system is self-defeating as it lacks optimism and represents a condescending view of our human ability to move forward with our lives.

Economic recompense can never heal emotional scars but only parents and carers, who with loving care and attention can and, in a very short space of time, days, weeks or years. Two hundred years strikes me as indifference to and shows a deep lack of effort in reducing fears and anxieties, which as a result can be and are recycled over many generations.

I would go so far as to say, that most 'cries of freedom' is mistaken for an unseen and misunderstood underlying psychological need for personal self-determination and self-control. There tend to be a lack of these needs and, of not having being taught how to achieve them. This lack of self-control can cause a great deal of anger, which can lead to a misguided need to control and even blame others. This control can also lead to racism and individuals, who wish to divide people according to race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, tribes or groups. It is the only sense of personal control they seem to know and understand. This can be seen as one of the many psychological factors, which led to slavery from all sides. Some might say that economic necessity plays a role, but human discrimination is not a part of this human activity. When it does, we become controlled by material greed at the expense of other people's and our own emotional and social 'well-being.'

The healing of emotional scars can also be confounded by religious beliefs. Underlying all religions is a selfish attitude, which confounds people's ability to take control of their personal and social lives and improve upon it. The Western world also introduced religion to the slaves but who, already had religious beliefs of their own. Some of the slaves were Muslims and, many African slaves had religious beliefs known as 'Obeah.' So religious selfish beliefs may have also confounded people's need to take some form of control of their lives, perhaps prior to and long after slavery.

The emotional and social 'scarring' resulting from human displacement can also be seen in many indigenous cultures across the world in places such as South, North and Central America, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, India and Mongolia. Many indigenous cultures are being uprooted by, the influence and intrusion of modern Western culture, commercialism, technology, global communication and loss of land. This disruption seems to produce a pattern of effects including ill health, depression, obesity, alcoholism, suicides, social and domestic violence, high divorce rates, poverty and a failure to take up education. These behavioural patterns are a direct result of the loss of people's stable cultural and family identity, which leads to a difficult and impossible search for both their roots and self-autonomy.

Something similar can be seen in Western societies where there is a breakdown of family life, which is the universal personal and social backbone of human identity, stability and security. However, culture like religion itself can also affect family life and ultimately our personal and social identity. I believe certain cultures need to be improved drastically, on account of the ill treatment of women and children, poverty, superstition, and a lack of education. Furthermore, groups who isolate themselves from the rest of the world are inevitably on a course to self-destruction.

I have observed many young children involved in many political demonstrations, which are most definitely unsuitable for young children. A few of the many include anti-war demonstrations, the many demonstrations seen in the Middle East and the recent anti-slavery so-called celebrations. You only need to look at the images on TV of any demonstration and you will notice quite a number of young faces, some carried on shoulders, in prams, pushchairs or just dragged along. In one Middle Eastern demonstration involving a huge, extremely noisy and agitated crowd, was a terrified looking baby, who was repeatedly waved about in the air by an individual carrying a gun in the other hand.

This just provides the evidence for my belief that humans do not really care about their children or their future, only for their personal beliefs. What, do babies or young children know about the moral, economic, social and political complex nature of what their parents or the adults around them are concerned with? Children do not have the capacity or the attention span to stand for long hours in the cold or heat, or cope with the fear that is induced from the ranting and the noise, and from boredom, induced by their lack of understanding regarding such activities. This is child neglect, a controlling and cruel way to supposedly teach children about historical or other social issues. No wonder we haven't learnt anything from history except selfish narcissism, discrimination and controlling behaviour.

Recently it has been reported that there is a group of individuals who are undertaking a 250 miles trek (a month long) from Hull to London where they will demonstrate, celebrate and pray for the historical events of the African slave trade. The TV images of this group showed a number of young children taking part. This may be child abuse and could not in any way teach children about the history of slavery or what it is the child should learn about slavery. The wearing of chains and other shackling devices used in the slave trade is, as far as I am concerned, a theatre, which mocks the reality of the suffering and loss of human dignity for those who did have to wear such despicable shackles. This theatre does not provide any long-term public awareness about what happened two hundred years ago. It could not teach children, why and under what historical circumstances such a tragedy occurred nor could it reassure them that it won't happen again. Indeed the only thing that the child learns is fear and ignorance, which underlies the deadly human motives for enslaving others.

The history of slavery remains an ongoing immoral act and occurs today around many parts of the world. The Guyana Human Rights Association reported that girls as young as eleven are forced into prostitution not just within Guyana but also, for the sex trade in Barbados and neighbouring Suriname. The victims are provided with similar slave like 'barracks' housing and sometimes locked inside. They are subjected to debt-bondage, intimidation and physical abuse including health risks such as HIV, not to mention the trauma of emotional scarring.

According to the BBC there are 8.4 million children around the world who are enslaved today, many of them in the Third World. The blame culture and cries for slavery reparation has little to do with our moral, political and social responsibility to publicise, prevent or stop this current inhumane trade of young children.

Slavery and Imperialism may have played a role so many years ago but it seems that parents and adults alike from the countries where slavery is still endemic have not learned anything from history. This is because some people are failing to protect their children's personal and social 'well-being' and also failing to provide them with a proper education. Yes poverty does play a role but ultimately the way we treat our children is the way they learn to treat others despite poor living conditions. The chief historians and learners of our world are children, who also represent the true development of life both personal and social. Adults are also failing to take responsibility for their own actions or inactions and for failing to look in their own messy backyards. Instead they are looking at the desert and dry lands of a two hundred year old historical event.

The West Indian community (Caricom) are asking for financial and other reparations for the slave trade, which is an insult to those people who did suffer so abominably including all those people who are currently enslaved. I wonder if two hundred year old slaves could be asked, whether they would like their descendants to benefit materially from their suffering. It would surely be dirty money and as such there could be no real empathy about their ancestor's suffering. Instead the empathy seems to be for those who, two hundred years later somehow feel they have suffered irreparably and, in some equally horrendous way as their ancestors. We should be trying to look in our own backyards at the current slave trade that horrifically destroys the lives of so many children and adults. It is just another example of adults passing the buck from one generation to the next as adults fail to take responsibility for protecting, supporting, properly teaching and guiding their children and each other.

That many individuals are unhappy with the legacy of slavery is to be unhappy with their cultural backgrounds and identities. The development of my West Indian culture could not have happened without the events of the slave trade or the African, Indian, British, the Dutch and all those who were involved. Most importantly I should remember those who were forced into a profoundly cruel role but one that played, an immeasurably sad but truly indelible part in their own and my history. I should also be thankful to all of them for my West Indian language, music, food and my multicultural nationality and identity.

Conveying history to our children

I believe that all past histories, including the recounting of atrocities committed should be left in the relevant history books and only taught to children as an exercise in intellectual skills and, in moral and social guidance. Children should also only learn about these complex ideas and events, at the appropriate age, which means that the child should be guided and then allowed to have the right to choose whether or not he or she wants to study history. If history is to be taught early it should be done, at the same level as, the age and understanding of the child, with the ‘details’ of horrific crimes banned. Furthermore it should also be taught in the home, not forced upon them and, only when, the child is at the age to be able, to ask. It must not be shoved down their throats like religion is.

The history taught in British schools, is about dictators and politics of world wars and revolutions in Germany, France, Russia, Italy and English 'Kings.' These are political topics and must surely be irrelevant to the personal and social history of many British children. A recent government report concerned with British identity recommended teaching historical topics such as; the Commonwealth, the legacy of Empire, slavery, equal rights legislation and devolution. The report also, was concerned that white working class pupils felt 'disenfranchised' and had negative perceptions of their British identities. Mike Baker of the BBC questioned whether; the topics recommended could make white pupils feel less 'disenfranchised. He also questioned whether the report was concerned with tackling racism or whether all children from whatever background should understand their identity through a study of British history.

Baker says that some of the history relevant to most British working class people includes the 17th century revolution, the civil wars, the agrarian and industrial revolutions, urbanisation, the agricultural depression, the rise of the Trade Unions, universal suffrage and the growth of the Welfare State. I agree with Baker that more social rather than political history should be taught in our schools.

However, both social and political history do not relate to many working class or any other children's social and economic way of life or, anything to do with their future. Racism also seems to be relentlessly pushed down children's throats and increasingly becoming politicised. Children it seems are surrounded by adults who are either racists or who wish to advocate further divisions based on religion, politics and, other social and historical differences. Citizenship education seems to now include teaching topics based on racism, political biases and, the detailed horrors of wars and slavery. How could these teach children anything about their human identity, respect and understanding, or even help children to adapt to the complexity of modern life. Since all the topic recommendations seemed to ignore children's choices, they can only represent a form of personal political and discriminative indoctrination.

If we do fail to take responsibility as adults for our own personal, political and social inadequacies and force our children to believe in particular aspects of our history and background then the following is what we shall be doing. We shall be passing on our history of divisiveness, guilt, blame, irresponsibility, neglect, psychological control and emotional problems onto our children.

Many young children and even teenagers are usually uninterested in history or for that matter any form of learning by indoctrination. This is primarily because many teenagers are going through a great deal of emotional and bio-chemical bodily changes and many adults repeatedly fail to take these factors in account. Similarly younger children have their own personal and social developmental needs, which should not, in theory, be dependent upon political, social and historical events or the bad behaviour of adults. Both teenagers and young children are often more worried about their personal, social and family lives than interested in being instilled with irrelevant historical facts and information. They need inspiring and motivating and, essentially, a stable and loving home background to enable them to want to learn and learn about their present and future environment.

Forcing children to believe in particular aspects of one's history and background can be seen in those adults, who go to schools and insist on young children or 'age inappropriate' teaching such as, the holocaust, slavery and religion. These are, highly emotive and adult issues, responsibilities belonging to adults and encompasses shock tactics for young children. It is, therefore, more likely to cause emotional harm such as feelings of guilt, confusion and misunderstanding. What teachers should be concerned about is, how to deal with, in considerate and 'age appropriate' ways, all the many prejudices that takes place amongst children of all ages and in every school.

Many autobiographies of well-known individuals often show how their culture, behaviour and personal attitudes are more often than not a replica of their parents. Adults seem to use history, religion, gender, race, class and other differences, as a way to control and indoctrinate the most vulnerable members of society. As such, we fail to teach and empathetically guide our children, to learn appropriate moral, personal and social responsibilities.

Children should be inspired to learn history and from a variety of history subjects both at school and in the home, at the appropriate age and through choice. First and foremost, parents should learn about all aspects of child developmental needs. Parents should also learn about the mistakes made and learnt from their personal and social backgrounds and be honest with their children about these. From this process parent and child can develop mutual trust and learning. Older children should also be guided morally and objectively about modern national and international political and social events. This guidance should relate to their country's political, economic and social way of life and how they can move forward and adapt to modern life.

'Freedom to choose' is a fundamental right for any human being, particularly for the child, and is a powerful way, to inspire and motivate young people to learn about their history and to move more positively into future. As a species we have evolved to acquire knowledge, emotional and social skills, which begins in childhood and ends in human history.


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