I’m hardly the first person to recognize that basic truths are more easily grasped by the young and the uneducated. For example, here’s a passage from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Peter Carr in 1787:
State a moral case to a plowman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.
What we generally call “education” and “socialization” are mostly efforts to separate the young from what they know innately. They do know things innately and by simple self-reference. Those things should never be pulled away from them. We are to add to them and clarify them, not take them away.
What Toddlers Know
Toddlers may be ignorant of many things, but they understand basic elements of life quite clearly. And we can see that understanding in the three things we hear every toddler say, over and over:
It’s not fair.
I doubt there’s a semi-intelligent adult in the English-speaking world who hasn’t heard those words dozens of times. So, let’s look at the understanding they contain:
This displays a basic understanding of property. Most things – certainly most things a toddler may be concerned with – are either one person’s or another’s. Food, for example: If one child eats a bowl of cereal, that cereal cannot be eaten by anyone else. It is either one person’s or another’s. The same goes for a bed: two people cannot sleep in the same spot at the same time.
Our physical nature requires private property; that’s a very simple and obvious truth, and one that young children grasp. The fact that so many adolescents and adults have been talked out of this truth (confused out of it) shows us the terrible power of authority combined with confusion.
Think about what is implied by this statement: The child expects integrity, even demands it. The same thought, set in adult terms, would be this:
If you say something, you must also act upon it, or else you negate your own words and thus judge yourself to be bad.
Not only is that opinion very clear and healthy, but it is the basis of all contracts and agreements. It is also the basis of morality, and was precisely that in the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth:
By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
Talking a child out of this understanding would be a horrific act. I know that people have done this ignorantly – which is certainly less bad for them than doing it purposely – but it doesn’t minimize the damage done to the child… and to the adult he or she will become.