Book review: Children don’t start Wars
Children Don't Start Wars
Peace News: ISBN 978 0 946409 14 3: Price £9
Review by Richard Seebohm
As many Lib Ed readers will know, David Gribble taught at the Dartington Hall schools until they closed in 1987. He then with others set up a school on the same lines called Sands. Among its many features is the school council, which handles anti-social behaviour more effectively than professional adults ever could. His theme in this book is that children have moral perceptions which atrophy with age, under pressure from the rigidities of institutions and from peer pressure within the adult world – ‘what will people think?’ Children do not judge, they care. Conventional thinking carried over from the past suppresses any spontaneity children may have. Obedience is a handicap and not a virtue.
The book is not sentimental. It starts with a Puerto Rican High School in Chicago facing up to gang culture. It deconstructs Lord of the Flies. David takes apart the manipulations, ridiculous when you look at them, that direct the plot; he attacks the universal conclusions too readily drawn from it, whilst not rubbishing William Golding as a writer of fiction. He explores what was missed when child development pundits like Piaget studied only the reactions of boys, not girls.
David’s response to Richard Dawkins is to suggest that children are genetically programmed to see that no one is unhappy. What is certainly consistent with Dawkins is the idea that institutions are selfish, and keener on self-preservation than on the function for which they were created. Power is not evidence of being right.
Perhaps the most important set piece in the book is a full account of the Children’s Hearing at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. The Conference itself set the scene for the Kyoto Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, but the children, treated with little respect by the organising powers, came out with a compelling and comprehensive ‘Appeal to World Leaders’. It is still available (after diligent search) on the UN website. It begins, ‘We want to inherit a clean earth.’ Its last sentence reads, ‘We are afraid that soon the world will belong only to the rich’.
I want to add one personal perception which I think is in the spirit of David’s book. In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate that nations with greater income inequality among their citizens suffer the more from almost all measurable social ills. I contend that such countries are also those with a higher proportion of children emerging from the educational system without functional literacy, and above all without functional spoken articulacy. David’s perceptions may be able to right this more directly than any foreseeable financial engineering.
(Richard Seebohm was a governor of a Quaker school, and handled educational finance when working in the Treasury. He was subsequently representative in Brussels of the Quaker Council for European Affairs.)