For boys, it’s often dreams of being a racecar driver or pilot as they played with toy cars or planes—or fighting evil for the sake of justice in a Gundam robot suit. Little girls might play house with dolls, try on a Cinderella dress, or dream of living in a beautiful house cooking delicious food…
These fantasy worlds are overflowing with unlimited possibility. But if you really think about it, aren’t they pretty close to the real world? They’re more like playtime hopes and dreams about what the child wants their future life to be like. And isn’t the purpose of education to teach kids what steps or processes they need to go through to make their hopes and dreams come true?
People that think the world of make-believe and the real world are at odds with one another are most likely adults who have forgotten their childhoods. Adults spend so much time trying to teach children things that they forget that there is actually more that children can teach them—and children are completely aware of this.
A speech from an Italian educator really caught my attention recently. An Italian school in his jurisdiction set up an exchange program with a sister school in Siberia, and to commemorate their friendship, the sister school presented him with a polar bear. Of course it wasn’t still alive—it was stuffed and mounted. Still, it was an unbelievable 2.7 meters tall.
Rumors about the bear spread among the children, and eventually the educator decided to show them the polar bear. He didn’t want to make the parents who were coming to get the kids wait too long, so he ended class about 15 minutes early and had all 250 students gather just before school was out so he could present the bear. The 250 kids, typically noisy with endless chatter, stared silently and wide-eyed at the animal, overwhelmed by its power. Just when the educator was about to explain the process of taxidermy to the children, the vice-principal of the elementary school appeared and interrupted his speech, taking the mic from his hand.
“You can’t tell the kids that this bear was killed and stuffed,” the vice-principal whispered. The educator was stunned. “You see that group of moms out there coming to pick up their kids, right?” he went on. “If you tell the kids that the polar bear was killed, the mothers will see it as a cruel act unbefitting and inappropriate to an educational institution. They’ll report it to the Animal Welfare Society. They’ll go crazy and sue us for shocking their innocent children. No matter what, you must not tell them that the polar bear was killed,” he ordered. The educator could hardly believe what he was hearing, but did as he was told.
So, how do you think he explained the bear?
“Siberia is a place that is colder than you can possibly imagine,” he began. “How cold is it? So cold that this polar bear died from pneumonia. That’s how cold it is.” He ended it there.
But the incident did not sit well with him, and the next day when he got to school, had the ten teachers in charge of the 250 students ask their students a question as soon as they arrived: “How did the polar bear die?”
“It was killed,” they all said without hesitation.
The best part of the story is the sense of humor Italians can use to get out of trouble—not to mention that the problems between the school and the parents were avoided.