children in school

Helping Children Learn to Be and Live Together by Focusing on the Value of Supporting Roles

In its 1996 Delors Report, UNESCO identified the need for continuous learning as a crucial skill for the 21st century. It established the framework of education with four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be.

Learning to know invokes taking ownership of the tools of learning. You teach children to improve their cognitive skills and memory for true comprehension. Learning to do concerns application. It’s where kids get to align concepts with practical performance.

Living together and being are the pillars of learning that greatly emphasize the overall context. Teaching children in these areas helps them understand how they fit into their growing world and realize their potential.

Taken together, these four pillars allow us to better pass on the skill of learning itself to our kids. However, there can be an imbalance. In childhood, too much emphasis is often placed on the first two pillars.

Self-centered learning

As the African proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. But in the modern world, especially in developed nations, families rarely possess the expanded network seen in traditional societies.

Over the generations, we’ve come to elevate the value of individual pursuits. The village has disappeared in favor of a nuclear family unit to enable this change.

It’s great that today’s society and workplace environments allow us to strive for successful careers while raising kids. But the nuclear family also tends to make a child’s learning more self-centered. It doesn’t foster the same sort of harmonious interactions with children of different ages, or even non-parental adult figures.

This shift in dynamic makes it far more likely for children to lean heavily on the pillars of learning to know and do. If they are only learning in school and from their parents, it can be harder for them to align that with the real-life context of adult learning.

A search for fit

As they grow older, move on from school, and start to live independently, younger generations can struggle to find their place in the world. This trend is reflected in progressive differences between age cohorts.

Gen X was characterized by competitiveness and individualism. While still present, those traits receded in millennials, who increasingly began to question and explore themselves. Gen Z, which is emerging as the next primary cohort, is now defined by its search for truth, diversity, and self-expression.

The bottom line is that entire generations are growing up having to address these gaps in knowledge independently. Because their foundations of learning are too self-centered, they don’t see how they fit in a rapidly changing world.

Moderating online influences

children with laptop

The influence of online interactions can both help and hinder this search for the pillars of being and living together. The internet gives children access to far more information than previous generations had at their disposal. Social media also provides them with a potential tool for expanding their networks and interacting with others.

However, these online channels can also amplify the negative effects of status competition. They allow children to compare themselves to often unreasonable ideals of success. Left unchecked, this can lead to kids feeling like they’re missing out or somehow inadequate.

Valuing new roles

We can help overcome these challenges by teaching children about the value of role players. In most team sports, success is measured by stats and championships. And winning teams often feature one or more star players who receive a disproportionate share of the glory and attention.

Yet stars can’t achieve success based on individual efforts. They need role players to do the work that’s less glamorous, but no less valuable.

The problem is that success is defined too narrowly. The more we fall for this trap, the more the pursuit of success becomes a zero-sum status game. If everybody is competing to learn more and do better at the same high-profile skill, there will inevitably be jostling and anxiety to see who gets to be on top.

In any endeavor, there’s room for individuals to contribute without being the star. Your child doesn’t have to do lead vocals; they can take bass guitar lessons and become the glue that holds the band together.

The tools for balanced learning are already available to us. We need to adjust our approach. The rest of society will do more than enough to lavish praise on superstar talents. It’s up to parents to teach their kids about how everyone else can fit in and make a pivotal contribution to group success without playing a starring role.

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