Because many people have (with their own eyes) seen it happen again and again and this has been backed up by studies; because, historically, this has been the way that people learned most of what they knew for thousands of years; and because so many of the people we revere in our culture today have succeeded largely by pursuing their passions. Using the language of our legal system, we believe that schools are based on the assumption that young people are born guilty of the crime of ignorance and must “serve time” until they attain the age of 16 or 18. In fact, just the opposite is true: babies and toddlers are brilliant young scientists that learn at a rate never to be equaled, which is how they develop language, motor control, social awareness and so many other life skills in such a remarkably short period of time. Of course, they benefit from the support and input of others—adults and older youths.
But the key ingredient is that they are in charge of their own learning. They seek out the answers to questions that they themselves have posed, not the ones that adults have told them they are supposed to ask. Theirs is a nature-perfect process. (Of course, there are the statistically rare exceptions, such as the mentally challenged, or those who possess certain forms of autism, etc., who need and deserve extra support. But even these young people are being seen in a different light these days, with some of their so-called handicaps masking special capabilities and talents.)
In short, childhood used to be seen as an opportunity. Now it is being treated as a problem to be overcome. We think this is tragic, and the statistics on the number of youths now on drugs for “learning disabilities,” the number who are committing violent crimes and committing suicide, the number who report a distressingly low happiness quotient in their life generally, are indicators that the way we are treating our children must be seriously challenged.