Hey, grown-ups. Where’s your sense of wonder gone?
By Sherwin Dane Haro
Editor-in-Chief / HAPIsko
As someone who has recently become an Assistant Teacher to Spanish elementary students, I am continually amazed by the endless curiosity of children. They ask relentlessly (i.e. about the world, Philippine culture, phonetics, etc.) with no regard for how ridiculous their questions are. Since starting in this role a couple of weeks ago, I’ve come to realize how important that is. When it comes down to it, not even the wisest adult can claim to know everything, so why be ashamed of just asking others about the stuff you don’t understand?
Being the answerer reminds me of when I was the asker. I had an insatiable curiosity when I was a kid. As early as age six, I loved reading encyclopedias and the “Did You Know?” sections in magazines like K-Zone Philippines; afterward, I would proudly share my discoveries with my family over the dinner table. One of my “party tricks” when my mama would have guests over was reciting cool facts I recently learned to the guests.
But for all of my enthusiasm, it struck me how none of the adults seemed to care. I would talk about how lipstick ingredients include fish scales or how a woman once legally married a rock – which, come on, are still amazing facts to this day! – and the responses from my “audiences” rarely rose above mild fascination.
When is the point that grown-ups lose their sense of wonder? I used to ask myself. Was it sometime during teendom’s glory and gore? Getting your first salary? What is it about leaving Neverland that kills one’s interest in learning about the universe in which we all live?
Eventually, I realized that my party trick was just that to the adults – party tricks. As you might imagine, this killed much of my interest in sharing the knowledge I had been learning. It didn’t help that during that same period in my life, I was enduring verbal homophobia from my schoolmates and certain family members. Back then, the concepts of self-care and mental health were a decade away from public acceptance (especially in a remote province like the one where I grew up) so the advice that I was given by the grown-ups was to just “pay the insults no mind”. Newsflash: that was not an effective solution.
To say that that period disillusioned my younger self would be a severe understatement. It taught me the wrong lesson about my fellow humans: that everyone was apathetic and cruel. If only those adults had kept reading philosophy (say, of the Bertrand Russell or James Baldwin mold) and watched Cosmos instead of televangelists, maybe I would have gotten the right advice sooner.
Humanism as an oasis
When I first came across secular humanism two years ago, it was a revelatory moment. I do not exaggerate when I say that meeting, befriending, and working with humanists slowly restored my faith in humanity. Simply being with them was reinvigorating. Humanists possess that childlike credulity that none of the people in my hometown seemed to have, the glint I craved seeing in my peers’ eyes but never found. Where had they been all my life?
At its core, humanism isn’t complicated; in fact, its basic tenets (science and kindness) are taught to us in preschool and elementary. I truly believe that if we could get the current generation of kids to not forget these lessons as they transition to adulthood, we might still have a brighter future ahead of us.
Which, of course, leads me back to my students.
Currently, I assist Spanish teachers in a bunch of classes ranging from kindergarten to Grade Five. In all of these kids’ eyes, I see the same curiosity that I possessed when I was their age. But I do not see cruelty: “fat” or “gay” do not register as insults to them. They sit in the same class as special needs kids but do not mock them. If the teacher scolds them for misbehaving, they do not throw temper tantrums; rather, they obey and do better.
It’s astounding to me. Here are kids who allegedly can’t fully tell right from wrong yet… except they can and they do.
How much does good parenting play into this? I wondered. Is there something in the Spanish water that I should know about?
Naturally, I probed into this mystery by googling it.
“Gen Z empathy.“
“Gen Alpha kindness.“
The results were as surprising as they were heartwarming! The consensus is that growing up with the internet has done wonders for these kids’ empathy. As divisive as the web can be, it has exposed young minds to diverse skin colors, cultures, and lifestyles; in turn, they’ve become less prone to bigotry.
Of course, we mustn’t fail to mention how the efforts of their Gen X and Millennial parents at raising them also helped. It was a multi-generational operation which, alt-right weirdos notwithstanding, bodes great things for humanity’s future.
Every day, I see the fruits of their labor at the school where I teach. It silently inspires me.
When you know better, you do better
Landing any teaching role (even under an internship like mine) is obviously an honor but only now has the full weight of the responsibility sunk in. As it turns out, my students are the elementary classmates I wish I could have had: curious lil’ humans who lift each other up and do not act on cruel impulses. They don’t need to discover humanism; it’s already in them. My job now is to just make sure they don’t lose it.
And so the next time my students try to explain a new fact to me, you can bet that I’ll play along. Nevermind if I already know the fact; I’ll grow wide-eyed. I’ll gawk. I’ll inquire and let them answer as best as they can.
For if there’s one thing you should never kill in this world, it’s the sparkle in a child’s eye.