When concluding our discussion in HONOLULU Family’s spring issue, we reflected on the age-old conundrum for parents, How does one raise a happy, good child?
As parents, we are inclined to shield our children from challenging, painful experiences. Oftentimes, though, this deprives them of life’s richest growth opportunities. How can parents inspire “goodness” in our keiki while protecting them from harm? Thought leaders both nationally as well as here in Hawaii can help to guide us. The following quote by Paul Hawken, an entrepreneur, activist and writer, provides a powerful perspective:
What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice and beauty to the world.
—Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest (Penguin Books, 2007)
If the good life we strove for last century was good enough for us, isn’t it good enough for our children? Arguably, the capacities and values necessary for living a good life during the past 50 years had their downsides. Our drive for the good life helped create Wall Street greed, a worldwide economic crisis, environmental damage, a quagmire of a public-education system and a political system paralyzed by partisan gridlock.
Thankfully, times are changing and how we lived for a half century will clearly not advance humanity in the 21st century. How we redefine the good life and how we redefine parenting and schooling in support of it must quickly change. We can no longer perpetuate well-accepted norms. We must encourage our children to discover new, more balanced, and more future-oriented norms and conventions.
Hawken’s quote represents an important emerging change in our culture. His view also represents hope for today’s parents and teachers, and provides a vision for how humanity might save itself. We can especially appreciate that Hawken assumes an “inherent goodness” at the heart of our humanity. It is this philosophy that empowers parents to imagine a new good life for their children.
Many educators and parents are collaborating to help children better understand what they will need to know to live a good life in a time of rapid change, in which complexity is a matter of everyday life and urgent, if not life-threatening, problems will require understanding and real solutions.
Hawken is clear that our children “are going to have to figure out what it means to be a good human being at a time when every living system is declining and the rate of decline is accelerating.” With social, political and economic systems worldwide breaking down, our children will be called upon to discard the obsolete and imagine wholly new, effective and more humane models for a global community of 7 billion people and rising.
Nainoa Thompson with a map of the World Wide Voyage.
Photo: Courtesy TNC
Intrinsic in this emerging 21st-century culture is a newly defined list of “essential capacities” needed for the good life, and for what it means to do good work. In the last issue, we detailed these essential capacities, and noted that the most essential of all are “integrity and ethical decision-making.”
Technology and globalization are reshaping the workforce. Our children will compete for jobs that may not even exist today, with people from all over the world. The information-technology revolution has made change too rapid for job-specific knowledge in any static sense to hold value; hence, “learning to learn” is fast becoming education’s most important outcome.
Parents as well as schools must therefore nurture innovation and creativity, leadership and teamwork, risk-taking, adaptability and initiative. They must teach complex communication skills. Work is only part of the equation. Above and beyond employment, we must prepare our children to be the designers and residents of new economies and new social systems. Parents and teachers must help instill moral courage, empathy, compassion and duty. We must instill in our children a true sense of social and environmental responsibility. These are the essential capacities that help redefine the good life and our planet’s future.
To have broad impact, these new essential capacities will need to be taught more intentionally and outcomes measured. Simultaneously, adults will need to reflect and model them. We can inspire our children to lead a good life by maintaining a deep focus on integrity and ethical decision-making. We must inspire them to:
Photo: Eli Witt Polynesian Voyaging Society holds the trademark to the Hokulea canoe and has authorized the use of its image.
Esteemed national thought leaders like Hawken can guide us in embracing the new good life; answers can be found here in Hawaii. Interestingly, our indigenous host culture has often been at odds with our now-outdated, 20th-century vision of the good life. Addressing this dissonance is one of our most heroic thought leaders, Nainoa Thompson. Thompson is a master navigator, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, an independent school trustee and the designer of the Hokulea’s upcoming Worldwide Voyage (WWV). This historic voyage will be particularly relevant to parents and teachers. The WWV will allow Thompson and his crew to sail around the world navigating without the use of modern navigational equipment.
The voyage is less about sailing and more about listening to and learning from children around the world. It is designed to help parents and teachers uncover and strengthen the inherent aspirations of all children to take responsibility for creating a sustainable future. “What does the 21st-century person need to know and be able to do given the unprecedented challenges like population growth, rapidly declining resources, ocean depletion, and a plethora of other social and environmental crises?” Thompson asks.
Can we confidently say we are preparing our children to become good global citizens, who can address and solve such major problems? Inspired by the voyage’s vision, some Hawaii schools are re-envisioning their missions to respond to Thompson’s question. Specifically, these schools are integrating ancient Hawaiian wayfinding into their curriculum, along with leading-edge, 21st-century dispositions and competencies. Thompson believes children who possess a deep understanding of both the ancient knowledge and new, 21st-century essential capacities have “the mind of the navigator.”
The mind of the navigator can become a powerful metaphor defining a new educational outcome, which will give our children the essential capacities to live a good life in the 21st century. For Hawaiian navigators, the technical skills are foundational only. What the navigator relies on even more is a deep and abiding sense of empathy and compassion for family, for community and for the Earth. Having the mind of the navigator enables our children to live their lives with “inherent goodness.”
Thompson speaks with a sense of urgency about this historic voyage. It will empower, inspire and guide all who are looking to find their way to a place where humanity can begin anew to create a future worthy of generations to come. We must develop the will, courage and insight to set a similar course to redefine what it means to be an educated person and to endow our children with the essential capacities they will need to live an entirely new kind of good life.