Have you read, as I have, of church services in colonial times where very young children were expected to sit quietly for hours on end? Perhaps for entertainment a little girl was given a piece of cloth shaped into a doll, but basically sitting still was demanded. Forget getting up and running around —fidgeting was taboo!
I don’t know how true these accounts are, but I sometimes wonder why we can’t even imagine our three-year-olds being motionless for an extended period. Does our children’s level of activity have to do with antibiotics in our milk and meat supply and other chemical changes in our surroundings? Or is this a case of a lowering of social expectations? After all, few adults today are comfortable sitting with their own thoughts. Would a teen today find it far-fetched to believe that children used to sit on car rides for hours doing nothing other than looking out of the window?
Is a baby born today physically different from one born a few centuries ago? Is he different from one born today into a foreign country and culture where the expectations vary? The nature vs. nurture argument is never-ending because both elements contribute to human development.
A classmate of mine had a brother who was ten years older than us. He often scoffed at her schoolwork complaints, claiming that the teachers (who had been his as well) were going easy on us. He was probably accurate. Standards do seem, in general, to be getting lower and lower. College students today would fail many an eighth-grade test from seventy years ago.
We can debate whether sitting still for a long time or knowing how to mentally calculate percentages are necessary and useful skills. (Yes, they are.) There are certainly many child-raising customs that none of us think back upon nostalgically. But, I do wonder if it would even be possible to expect fulfillment of some things that were considered standard and normal in the past.
We actually have no idea what our capabilities are. When we see a gymnast contort her body or a spelling champion familiarize herself with thousands of words, we marvel at what they can do but don’t expect the same of ourselves. And, certainly, we each have individual strengths, weaknesses and barriers to achievement. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to think what would happen if we stretched our demands of ourselves and our children just beyond what we think is possible? Might we actually rise to the challenge?