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"Blocks"

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The child eagerly grasped the next block to place upon the basic foundation he had created. After inspecting the block for a moment, he placed it where he judged it best to fit. The child was perhaps 4 or 5 years old, and he sat in the middle of his room on the blue carpeting. The walls were also blue, so similar in color to the carpet that if one were to not focus on anything and let his eyes gaze unfocused while in the room, he would see nothing but a constant light blue as clear as the sky. It was under this sky that the child sat, assembling his block creation. One could not tell by looking at it what it was to be, but could tell that the child had a clear purpose and intention. Each block was examined before being placed, each block undergoing the careful stare of the little boy. The boy continued for some time, building his creation. He could clearly see in his head what his creation was to be upon completion, all that was left was to act, to make his dream a reality, a physical object to be touched and gazed upon. The foundation soon grew upwards, as the child’s manner grew more and more eager and frantic. He was close now, his creation that originated in his mind was on its way into the physical realm.

It was then that the child’s mother appeared int eh doorway, followed by another child. I’ve brought the neighbor for you to play with, she would say, smiling, and the second child looked sheepishly at the first. The first child paused what he was doing for a moment to look up and nod, intent on getting back to his work. He has no blocks of his own at home, the mother would explain, share with him so you can both have fun, she would say. The child agreed to share his blocks with the newcomer, for he was a good child that obeyed his mother. No words were spoken between the two children as they sat there, building. The new child started to hum a tune under his breath while he built. The first child continued on his original project. Time after time he reached into the pile of blocks and set one upon its proper place in the structure. It was hard to imagine the organized structure he was creating to once be a mangled pile of blocks randomly strewn about the floor. As the child entered the final phase of his creation, he reached once again into the pile of blocks only to find… that there was no pile. All the resources had been used, he was out of blocks. The child sighed quietly and looked over to see what his neighbor-friend was creating. What lay in front of the other child was an amorphous blob of blocks that had been piled on top of one another aimlessly, without thought, without purpose. The other child, too, discovered the shortage of blocks and began to cry. He started yelling that there weren’t enough blocks and that he wanted to finish what he was making but he couldn’t. The first child remained silent, staring at his unfinished tower. The mother rushed into the scene, and asked the crying child what was wrong. Not enough blocks, he would cry, I don’t have enough he would shout. The mom looked from the crying child’s chaotic mess of blocks to her own child’s creation and decided there was an uneven distribution of blocks. Son, she would say, let your friend have more blocks so that you can both have a chance to make something, you shouldn’t take so many and make something so big, you should make something smaller so that your friend can have enough blocks. Her son said nothing, just stared silently at his nearly completed creation. You can take as many blocks as you need form him, the mother would say, and after she left the neighbor-friend grasped a block off the top of the other child’s tower. The child did not resist, just sat there watching his creation be destroyed by the grubby hands of the other child. If it was not complete, it was nothing. Completion or nothing, with nothing in between. As he sat and watched his creation slowly deteriorate, the child realized in simple terms that this isn’t the world he thought it was. Though he didn’t realize it then, he is fated to see all of his great creations in life destroyed, broken, and disassembled, if this world is not changed. But nevertheless he will continue to create, continue to use his mind, and continue to think. This is what we are fighting for. We are fighting for this child and his right to build his tower.

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What caused the first child to be a better block builder than the second? Was he just genetically more intelligent, or was his increased creativity a result of his upbringing and social conditions? What about the child who was building a tower and then had his blocks taken away because his parents needed to sell them to buy food?

Obviously children who are more talented (for whatever reason) shouldnt be handicapped to help those who are less talented, but I think that stories like this have the effect of portraying intelligence/creativity as something which is innate (or chosen/willed) rather than as something which is strongly influenced by upbringing. The children of wealthy parents are more likely to have their intellectual curiosity encouraged from an early age, and have access to more resources, which is going to have an effect on creativity and academic performance. It's not enough to just notice that some people are more talented than others, you need to look at where this talent comes from.

I do think that a lot of modern educational philosophy is horribly misguided and does tend to have the effect of stifling more gifted children, but its not clear what the 'best' educational system would be. Parental income is one of the strongest predictors of academic performance, so a system which is geared towards trying to identify the brightest children and give them special attention is flawed because it results in potentially intelligent children being passed over because they havent yet been shown how to use their intellectual tools. Education is a really difficult problem imo - ideally you want the most talented children to be continually encouraged to excel, but in a way which doesnt involve segretating them from children who havent developed their potential yet, and I'm not sure what that would look like in practice. I like the Montessori idea of refusing to segregate based on age though - a classroom which tries to eliminate competition between children and focuses on developing an environment where everyone can learn at their own pace seems like a fundamentally good idea.

Along these lines, I think the way the first child ignores the second in your example is quite interesting - it seems like he has already formed negative attitudes about others, maybe because he is used to an education system which regularly holds back the talented children back to help the less talented. So perhaps if he had been raised in a more healthy educational environment where his own development wasnt being continually sacrificed to help others, he would have a more benevolent attitude towards the other child. Teaching others about something is often the best way of improving your own understanding of it, and I think that most children enjoy showing-off what they know. Its not really healthy to be hostile to people just because theyre less talented, and I think this hostility is mainly the creation of a broken education system which pits children against each other rather than trying to encourage mutual learning.

Edited by eriatarka
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Eria,

The conclusions you draw from Windy's story are unwarranted. Your critique of the educational system is unrelated to the theme of his piece- this story is an allegory, simply and elegantly exposing how the common concept of "fairness" is applied only in terms of "need" with no regard to what greatness must be destroyed in order to satisfy it. Theoretically I could argue that the blocks belong to the mother and it's perfectly correct for her to decide how to use them, but this would miss the essential point as much as concerning ourselves over where this particular child's ability comes from.

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