I've taught first grade students in Thailand for over a year now. Out of three hundred and sixty five days in 2013 I spent about eighty-percent of them interacting with six and seven year old boys and girls. I am by no means an expert on child psychology. Yet I think I can say with a great deal of certainty that children don't fit the dictionary definition of innocent. That definition, just FYI, is 'free from moral wrong.'
What have I seen to bring me to this conclusion? Well, just about everyday I see a child crying because someone hit them, or because someone took a treat or toy from them, or because someone called them a name. I hear kids lie to me when they say they don't have a notebook only to find that it's in their cubby-hole and they never bothered to look for it. I see kids cheat on tests by looking at their neighbors sheets when it's been explicitly explained you don't do it. I see kids be vindictive, petty, mean for no clear reason other to inflict pain on others for their own enjoyment. These children have a concept of right and wrong, primitive as it may be, yet they disregard it on a regular basis.
I also know, children are not innocent because interacting with my first graders has pushed me to look back at my own foggy memories of grade school. I realized I too, I wasn't innocent at their age either or any other part of my youth. For the truth is, we've all been bullies at one point in our lives. True, I doubt most of us have been the kids who thrived in the world of thuggery. Most of us didn't demand other kids' lunch money...but at some point in our schooling we instigated or participated in the marginalization and abuse of one of our peers who was a bit different. Maybe it was with a rude comment or a bit of name-calling maybe it was actually physical maybe it was teasing. But we were all mean to someone without reason to be.
Now, please, when you read this don't think to yourself 'What a cynic! Does he really dislike his job so much?' Well, like everyone I do loath my day job at times, but it's rarely because of the children. As I stated before, I love the buggers. What I love most about them though is that they are themselves, unabashedly unashamedly themselves.
I think this is what many people truly mean when they talk fondly of the innocence of children. They are innocent, not because they don't know the difference between moral wrongs and rights but because they are innocent of social constrictions. More than anything else, I feel we adults wish we could be more of ourselves. We yearn to be true to ourselves in a world where circumstance and the sweat of making a so called living more often than not get in our way.
We also yearn, to not feel the pressure to appear a certain way at a certain time. We sometimes wish we could truly and freely express our fears about the unknown, express our ignorance of so many aspects of life. The stiff-upper lip the nose to the grindstone. It would be nice if it could vanish from time to time. We all wish at points we didn't have to appear invincible, competent and composed. We wish we didn't have to appear a certain way to others just because it's expected. Children, small children, have few pretenses. Few grand deceptions in their lives. They are the only people I know, who can truly live moment by moment. They are so caught up in the moment that their pain evaporates just as quickly as their joy. The slights I mentioned before are almost always forgotten in a short span of time.
The children I teach are exactly themselves at exactly that moment and every moment after. They allow themselves to be happy when they are happy, they allow themselves to be sad when they are sad, they allow themselves to be vindictive and mean spirited when that is what they feel. They are not innocent. They simply have not been taught to hide and in some cases fear aspects of themselves as far too many adults have. Society has not taught them to conform to repress to excuse who they may be or what they may be for the sake of unity, harmony or the benefit of society.
Don't misinterpret me here either. Society is necessary and finding the right balance between a true self and a healthy concern for the well-being of our fellow man or woman is something generations of thinkers and leaders have meditated on for generations with limited success.
I do think though that learning how to better preserve the inhibition of the small ones, which we so admire in them, would go a long way towards making sure grown ups can recapture some of the zeal and contentment they had in days gone by.