Teach your kids to think

2012-06-20 00:00

FROM conservative to liberal. From religious to spiritual. From the country to the city.

From knowledge to experience.

“So where are you from?” I often get asked.


“Where on Earth is that?” is the usual response.

“A small, German town in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands surrounded by sugar-cane fields.”

Most people will shake their heads and proclaim they have never heard of it.

Wartburg is where I grew up. It is the place I call home. It is where I gained an incredible amount of knowledge from the church and school I attended. It is the ideal place to grow up in and get old. It is, however, the in-between that makes all the difference. I chose experience over knowledge and moved away from home at the age of 18.

In a brief 10-year review, I have lived in a trailer park and worked in a meat-pie factory, lived in an attic and worked in a cellphone factory, lived in a cabin and worked as a lifeguard, lived under stairs (like Harry Potter) and worked as a charity pawn and call-centre drone. I have been awarded a Master’s degree while living in deplorable to lavish digs. I have lived in the hottest city in the world and taught adolescents, lived in a cottage and taught at a university — and now I teach in one of the biggest banking groups in the world and live in a yellow-brick house. I have lived and worked on four continents.

And what is the relevance to you in all of this? None whatsoever. It is to thank my parents for letting me be me.

Parents always have a choice. They can choose to raise their children according to their belief system and keep their children close to home. They can choose to teach their children how to accept or they can choose to teach their child how to think.

My parents chose the latter. They taught and allowed me to think critically, and for this I am eternally grateful. I was raised in a conservative community and religion, in which I stuck to the rules and obeyed the system, yet I was allowed to question and explore other options.

Due to this, I am now living in Mexico and working in a field entirely different from that which I studied for seven years.

Everyone I have met during my travels has said something along the lines of: “The world is going bottom up and there is nothing we can do to stop it”. I, however, have always had the response: “Then how about we teach our children to think and help them to solve this riddle of humanity?”

“To think” is a wonderful verb. To some individuals it implies simply to learn facts and apply them in life; it does not mean to look beyond the borders of taught knowledge. Please do not misinterpret this statement. Knowledge is of key importance and should be passed on to children at school, at religious gatherings and in the family home. However, for this world to progress beyond what we know now, we have to teach children how to question and not merely to accept. We have to teach equality by explaining every story from every angle.

South Africa is a prime place to begin. Living in a foreign country, I have kept track of the news sagas which rock the boat of governance. And if I must spell it out clearly: the reactions of the populace and the government to most things is downright deplorable.

No one is willing to analyse a situation critically. Instead, each and every individual takes that which has been passed onto him or her as knowledge and applies it to a situation which requires more than knowledge: it requires critical analysis and real thought.

How about teaching both sides of the apartheid story and explaining the tragedy from all possible perspectives instead of from one subjective view? How about we ask our youth to think about the situation with the knowledge and perspective they have gained from all angles. Let them decide on the truth.

“And the truth shall set you free!” Thankfully this particular statement is entirely true and when we get our youth to think away from the influence of past subjective knowledge, which is entirely skewed, then perhaps we can move forward as a society.

Thus, thanks go to my parents from Wartburg. They allowed me to question and to think. They allowed me to go beyond knowledge and explore the workings of the world. They allowed me to become a true individual and not just a reflection of themselves.


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