I find myself thinking about smart citizenship during interactions with the families, teachers, and children of Ecole Claire Fontaine; an art, language and nature school for young children. I believe that to raise smart citizens we must entertain all the senses and cultivate words for the social brain to form. We must also entrust in children the will to learn and to share wisdom and curiosity. In saying this, it is a given that we treat all learners with dignity and nurture their visions and hopes for the world.
Smartness is found in one’s inner spark and will to live, one’s ability to think and exercise the brain. It also deepens our curiosity about the world we live in and keeps us flexible in uncertainty. In my work as an educator, I believe in cultivating the talents of children to be stewards of the earth, its elements, and its inhabitants. Intelligence is powerful because if nurtured positively, it can be the key to harmony and certainly the door to a better world.
Understanding the natural world first and the human existence second is paramount to being an effective citizen. The natural world weaves together all of the curiosities and key findings that we have explored during human existence. Yet till this day we still do not fully know everything about the natural world, and it continues to keep us in awe.
One could say, “smart is within me and all around.” A good education builds confident explorers. When I read the poetry of Jean de la Fontaine I am moved by the utter certainty that there is always more to discover. Fostering inquiry will necessarily lead to this realization. Lifelong learners are the bedrock of smart citizenship, a subject with an ocean of possibilities to be well-rounded, well-made and well-filled.
An example used at a recent conference on education reminded me of my most energetic students. The scene featured two young boys discovering a watering can. One of them takes to the floor, saying “I am a flower! Water me!” There is no water in the can, which makes the children laugh even more. The video shown is pure theatre, and you can see the intelligence shown through the quick improvisation of the children. However, the teachers decide that they need to correct this situation, ignoring the laughter and ordering the flowers in the garden to be cut, placed in a vase, and a flower store opened, adding a math lesson in the exchange of money. We know from François Rabelais, “To laugh is proper to man.” Instead, this instance of heavy teacher-led approach ignored the simple openness and playfulness of children that could have opened up further possibilities for learning.
When allowed to do so, children can lead at numerous levels, connecting as a network. Smart citizenship is the human fabric that we weave when we agree to disagree and appreciate our differences that add value to our knowledge, engage, participate and share. It occurs through communication, the palmary tool of human beings.
I see love at the center of all of this, as it is the source of our connections to one another and our passions. As the school gates at Ecole Claire Fontaine swing open children are seen and heard as intelligent and sentient beings with the capacity to sense and choose. As smart citizens, we are individuals who are true to ourselves while sharing with the world our thoughts, talents, and offering our help.
There is a direct line between children, the school we have created, and smart citizenship. I see it in the garden and hear it in the songs at choir time. I remember what Michel de Montaigne wrote: “…I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide with a well-made rather than a well-filled head…”