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On Developing Young Minds

Writing On The Wall


We have the God-given power to think. Not just a straight line between grocery list and dinner, to-do list to calendar, and not just to memorize enough information to keep ourselves alive.

We have the ability to synthesize, conceptualize, and dream. Our brains are infinitely complicated, beautiful, and smarter than any computer. Complex webs of information form and grow as we learn new things.

I have always been a language nerd. I am fascinated to observe instances such as a bilingual child, for example, switching back and forth between languages. I recall several occasions when a young girl of about 7 years old, listened to an English-speaking adult ask a question of her father, which she repeated to him in Spanish, then translated his response back to English. In a matter of minutes, she had seamlessly performed a feat of mental gymnastics that most adults have never attempted. People who learn new languages are tapping into a deep well of amazing capabilities, especially while still young and able to absorb language organically.

Learning can be a thrilling adventure, but certain foundations need to be in place.

Educators have a saying: Take care of Maslow before Bloom. Here is what that means. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is presented in pyramid format showing the necessary conditions required for optimal learning to happen.

Physiological needs are the base of the pyramid (food, shelter, clothing, sleep), then safety, love and belonging, feeling accomplished, and finally reaching full potential, including creative activities. Many children do not have access to the basic needs, let alone those higher up.

Bloom’s taxonomy illustrates different levels of thinking, also in a pyramid format. The bottom layer involves memorization of information, above which are stacked understanding, application, and analysis of that information, then evaluating. The highest level is creating. To create is to know the best part of that God-given ability to think. This allows us to pursue scientific research for the betterment of humanity, to write novels and poetry, to make art, to compose music, and to help other people unlock their creative potential.

Sadly, we do not always use our brains to do good. I seriously doubt that Creator intended for us to invent new ways to control or even destroy other people.

The following is an abbreviated version of a quote by actor William Shatner, better known to most of us as Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, describing his trip into space.

“The strongest feeling that dominated everything else was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced. I understood, in the clearest possible way, that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death. I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting so starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet. This was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realized that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside. I did my share in popularizing the idea that space was the final frontier. But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is and will stay our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.”

His opinion captures a feeling of dread that has grown over the years as I see wave after wave of power-hungry people molding their part of the world into something it should not be. They place their own wealth and influence above all else, twisting creativity into something never intended for such purposes.

For me, everything comes back to public education. Without a fully-supported, robust system that honors both students and educators, and their diverse communities, we are failing future generations. Efforts to manipulate public education are turning it into a lucrative cash cow for testing companies and consultants. The most expensive contract held by the Arkansas Department of Education is with a company called Solution Tree. Six years ago the contract cost taxpayers $4 million. Last year it was $83 million. This year it is $149 million, according to Transparency.Arkansas.gov.

By removing interference from profit-hungry corporations and ambitious politicians, educators could be given the resources they need to develop young minds the right way. Not to be good test-takers or numbers on a spreadsheet, but informed, curious, and creative problem-solvers.

As Mr. Shatner stated, we are living on a tiny oasis of life. If we allow a society to exist that benefits only a privileged few, that oasis does not seem sustainable. What then?


Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher living her best life in rural Stone County with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Write to her at shelleywritingonthewall@gmail.com.


Stone County Leader, Shelley Smith


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