“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?” ~Erich Fromm
“Education is the transmission of civilization.” ~Ariel and Will Durant
“I HATE BEES!,” exclaimed Seth.
Seth is four years old. He has a very patient dad and a seven-year old brother, Taylor. Taylor has a quiet and gentle countenance reinforced by a pair of glasses and a shy smile. Seth is the opposite: loud, serious, and a bit capricious (well he is four).
They make an interesting pair with their obvious differences. But they are similar in that they are both soaking up information with their young sponge-brains.
We’d just been discussing bats. Unlike many of the people I meet, Seth loves bats, especially fruit bats. We certainly agree on this point as fruit bats are pretty amazing, eating fruit, pollinating flowers, generally hanging around looking cool. Seth knows about other bats, like the little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) that resides in many places including the Pacific Northwest. He’s quite happy about the fact that bats eat hundreds of mosquitoes in a single night. Taylor is very allergic to mosquito bites and is happy to know this too.
Through this discussion, Seth for all his few years, seemed quite reasonable…until someone mentioned bees and then his tirade began.
I ask Seth, “Do you like apple pie?”
“Do you like cherry pie?”
“Then you must thank the bees, they pollinated the apple and the cherry trees.”
There’s no reasoning with this boy, “I HATE BEES!”
His father and brother look at me. Dad gives a knowing look, and communicates to me that this will take time. Seth’s too young to have the patience to learn about our native bees, very docile yet highly productive pollinators. He doesn’t have the attention span to listen and learn that these bees won’t sting him, they’ll just do their job and help make lots of apples, pears, berries, and cherries. Nor can he listen and learn about other bees and wasps and the way they fit into the web of life that keeps this world going.
I attempt more dialog, “Seth, are you afraid of bees?”
“I HATE BEES!”
With that, I shrug, change the conversation, and wonder how this lad of 4 has developed such a distaste for ALL bees even before learning about the hundreds of native bees that are really quite harmless.
It’s just amazing how children get conditioned at an early age. I once witnessed a girl of about eight years notice a garden decoration inspired by a bumblebee. It’s abdomen was a recycled yellow Christmas light painted with black stripes to resemble a bee, legs and antennae of bent copper. Kind-of a cute and clever little ornament. She saw this knickknacks and screamed. LOUDLY. As if about to be murdered.
I approached ready to take on her attacker only to learn the bee facsimile was the cause of her terror. Her mom explained to me that they were from Texas and she had taught her daughter to be afraid of all bugs since there are many big, nasty, biting bugs there. That would protect her until she could grow up and learn to distinguish the dangerous ones from the harmless ones.
Excuse me but, what a stupid plan.
At eight she was not only unable to distinguish “bad” bugs from “good” bugs, she couldn’t even face an obvious fake without being traumatized. I understand the desire to protect your children from harm. But, how does teaching blanket fear of all large insects protect a child. Doesn’t it just teach them to be afraid? At an age and time when wonder should be the operative emotion, isn’t it a travesty that this child has missed learning about all of the wonderful and fascinating things in the insect world?
On the other hand, I do meet many parents who are over-coming their own fear of bees and bugs and bats and fill-in-animal-name-here to help instill a love of all nature (or shall I say a nature of love) in their children. They’re remarkable in recognizing that they’ve been inappropriately conditioned either by society or their family and they don’t want the same for their children. They’re the ones that understand that each creature here has a role and right to live.That creature is not good, it’s not bad, it’s just doing its job.
Lots of animals are anthropomorphized: given human attributes and judged by them. Some of those animals cause such fascination in us, due to their abilities or beauty, that we overlook the “negative” traits. One great example: the hummingbird. One of the most aggressive and territorial birds found on the planet. They are fierce aggressors and fearless in protecting their territory and everything in it. Not good. Not bad. They’re just doing their job. They can’t help their behavior any more than they can help having amazing flight capabilities and iridescent feathers.
What’s interesting to me is how many people completely forgive the hummer’s aggression, seeing only its beauty. I once met a women with a hummer phobia. Even she didn’t criticize them despite the panic they stirred in her; she knew that almost everyone else saw them as beautiful, and because of that she was willing to overcome her fear
Yet, on the other hand the wonderful little mason bee who only minds her own business & pollinates hundreds of flowers in her short life span is vilified so easily only because she’s a BUG. A grand example of how prejudice is programmed into us.
I’ve used bees and bats and hummingbirds as examples of biases we teach our children but I could just as easily be talking about race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation.
Today, too soon on the tail of the Trayvon Martin case news of another horrible racially motivated killing in Tulsa is being discussed on the news. I’m deeply saddened. My heart goes out to all of the families that are now entangled in this senseless tragedy. And my heart breaks knowing very clearly that racism is still a much too prominent part of the American landscape.
I’m dismayed knowing that the world is full of grown-up Seths that base their judgement of other races on erroneous misconceptions and ignorance. They’re conditioned so strongly to be afraid and suspicious, hateful and violent that they only know how to perpetuate those emotions. And like Seth, many of these people are equally unwilling to listen to reason and learn that they’ve jumped to conclusions without learning all of the facts.
Facts: not all bees sting; hummingbirds aren’t all sugar and spice; and no, you don’t need to be afraid or suspicious of someone because they are black and wearing a hoody.