Learning from children

…I hear babies crying,
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

These are the lyrics of What a wonderful world, a ballad immortalised by Louis Armstrong. This particular phrase stands out to me.

We have now long established how our childhood plays a dominant role in determining how we interpret the world. The human brain, in comparison to other animals, is far less developed at birth. This is what makes us so adaptable. Most of our intensive brain development happens in the first three years of our lives, after which neural plasticity – the ability to which our brains can be moulded by experiences, starts dropping.

However, this also means that our brains were developed to understand a world that is very different from today’s world. In my case, this period was the late 80s and the early 90s – a world where the internet did not exist, personal computers were exotic, most knowledge was contained in physical libraries and reading was an indispensable skill. Considering how much the world has changed, our approaches for learning about it – in big classrooms and with textbooks – can be outdated. Sure, we can change that with effort, but the hardware between our ears is less flexible and versatile than it used to be. The older we are, the truer this is of us.

This is where the lyrics of the song strike a chord with me. Babies that are born today can interpret this world more easily than older people whose brains are mostly developed. No wonder, children born in recent times are termed digital natives, and can understand and adopt new technology more easily. Their brains, developed in the present, are better calibrated to embrace it.

Thinking about this makes me regard children with more respect – as people whose methods of understanding the world around are superior to my own.

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