I’ve been thinking about human development lately. For years, I’ve been keenly aware of various theories of development that suppose that children gradually make gains in cognition, reason, and understanding. Young children, according to these theories, can’t think abstractly. Everything is concrete for them. When we tell young children that Jesus is in their hearts, it’s likely that they’ll take this abstract expression literally, possibly thinking that a little, tiny, micro-Jesus lives in their blood-pumping organ.
It’s no wonder, then, that in the modern world, where reason and rationalism is held in high esteem, that children are down-graded, dismissed, and ignored. After all, what do they, as irrational creatures, have to contribute to society? Not too much, apparently. That’s why schools exist: to replace the irrational imagination of children with the reason and logical understanding needed for being a person in the modern world. In fact, the same argument was said of women—during modernity, women were often seen as irrational, intuitive creatures who did not possess the reason and logic that men had and, thus, they weren’t fit for engaging in public life. It was a man’s world—a grown man’s world. Women and children first? Maybe on the Titanic. But not in the everyday life of modernity.
The good news is that we are moving beyond modernity. Sure, some groups/nations/cultures/etc. are moving faster than others. And rightly so. But for the western world, modernity is passing away and a new, postmodern world is taking root, growing, and coming into full bloom right in front of our eyes. But one thing that we seem to be bringing with us is our view of children. Sure, we talk about the importance of imagination, play, and make-believe, but the wider society, as it seeks to become postmodern, continues to give a second-class status to young people. They still have to go to school and learn from rational grown-ups about how the world works. And the church doesn’t tend to be much different in this sense.
I wonder, however, if in pushing children to the sidelines, if in cloistering them in schools and age-segregated children’s ministry programs, we are not only doing them a disservice, but we are doing a disservice to us as well. In fact, maybe we’re doing a disservice to the whole postmodern experiment. After all, postmodernism has at its very core a rejection (or at least scepticism) of the value of reason. Postmodernism questions the seemingly inevitable value of reason by elevating the place of imagination, wonder, and emotion. But some of the most rational (male) theorists of the modern era have argued that children are imaginative, wonder-full, and emotional.
Maybe we need to stop and take our cues from children. In moving from a modern world to a postmodern world, we are seeking to go beyond pure reason, to once again infuse our lives with wonder, curiosity, and imagination. Why not look to the children to guide us? Perhaps in our struggle to shed the skin of modernity and grow into postmodernity, our best guides are the ones that we tend to ignore: children. What would happen if their inherent imagination, emotion, sense of wonder, and constant asking of “why?” were given the respect they deserve in a postmodern world? What would happen if we took children seriously and let them school us in the ways of the (postmodern) world? What if we let them show us what it means to become like little children?