November 20th is Universal Children’s Day, a day to honor the rights of children. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Boulder Journey School (BJS) collaborates regularly with Hawkins Centers of Learning to hold evening workshops, open to the community as well as all members of the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJSTEP). To learn about and register for upcoming workshops, click here.
This month, in honor of Universal Children’s Day, we held An Evening of Discussion About Children’s Rights.
“I think it is a topic a lot of people don’t think about, including myself. I know people and children are the same, but I think we don’t know how to offer children the space to exercise their rights.” – Kourtney, Denver Public School educator
On Tuesday, November 14, educators from Boulder and Denver gathered in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Room to view The Voices of Children, a short documentary composed of children sharing their lives and experiences through a series of “listening sessions”. The viewing and subsequent dialogue were facilitated by Sam Hall, Member of The Voices of Children Production Team.
The Voices of Children documentary project was initiated by the World Forum Foundation Working Group on Children’s Rights, formed at the 2011 World Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education, in Hawaii, USA. The following year, in Moss, Norway, members of the Working Group, Voices of Children committee, defined their primary goal and the means to achieve it. The goal was to articulate the rights of children worldwide, from the child’s perspective, rather than from the viewpoint of the adult. One means of accomplishing this unique goal was the creation of a video documentary that would capture children’s voices directly, without filtering them through adult interpretations. – From The Voices of Children Documentary Project Background Information Sheet
Following the viewing of the documentary, we engaged in dialogue around the rights of children in our personal contexts and how these contribute to our understanding of children’s contexts around the world.
One of the big questions we examined was the grey area between honoring a child’s right to protection, and honoring a child’s right to participate.
When we protect a child from realities that may seem scary, are we prohibiting them from offering their viewpoints, their understandings, and their solutions to the community?
When we offer children experiences that require their voices, does this take away from the protection of their childhoods?
As a group, we discussed that the answers to these questions lie deeply embedded in the cultural contexts in which the children live.
In the film, we saw children stirring steaming vats of food to be served for meals, cutting branches with machetes, and digging with pickaxes. This is in contrast to the protected experiences many of us from Colorado engage in with children. Three girls from Kenya, who appear to be between the ages of seven and ten, explain to the camera, “The reason kids rush to help and do some of the work, the reason we don’t just sit like this, it is because children cannot just sit while the elderly people work. We can help with everything.”
Taylor, a Denver-based Early Childhood Education teacher and BJSTEP alumna reflected, “Anyone who works with children knows they don’t want to just sit around. There is a connection between work and feeling a sense of pride. Offering children the opportunity to do meaningful work, not work that we just make up, but work that they can see why it is important, why it matters, helps children in the long run develop a sense of pride in their contributions to the community.”
Elizabeth, a Fort Collins-based educator and BJSTEP alumna built on this reflection, “Do the children who were cooking and contributing feel a stronger sense of ‘I’m a citizen’ than children who are offered arbitrary experiences, such as a teacher ‘letting’ a child clean up all the red blocks?”
We wondered whether children who have to do work feel more a part of the community because they are responsible for the well-being of the community.
We reflected that affluent cultures tend to value protection over participation. Does that shift in values strip children of their sense of self and community, and their sense of responsibility to the communities in which they reside?
We wondered how we, steeped as we are in our own cultures and contexts, might actively seek to move beyond our own biases. There may not be universal answers to these questions. We must seek to listen, just as the documentary team listened to children, to help us honor the rights of children in the contexts and cultures in which they live.
We cannot afford to ignore situations because they make us uncomfortable.
As we drew to a close on the night of the viewing, filled with questions, wondering whether we had said the right things, asked the right questions, or listened intently enough, Gwen, a Boulder-based educator shared, “With all the discussion, I feel that I want answers. I don’t like the questions. I want answers. And what I’ve taken from tonight is that the conversation is where the answers come from. It is valuable just to have the conversation even if it is uncomfortable. I appreciate that.”
If you are interested in screening The Voices of Children, please contact Sam Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Be sure to include your name, city and country, so we can direct your request to the correct team member.