What could be

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Ellen J. Langer’s Mindfulness was a personal landmark: a wondrous book on human possibilities, their promise, and their everyday annihilation. I’ve already sprinkled several quotes from it in previous posts ELZR (and will continue to do so) but there is one quote that deserves all the highlighting I can give it — this may rank as the most provocative thing I’ve ever read:

Teaching can be done in a much more conditional way.. Children are usually taught “this is a pen,” “this is a rose,” “this is a car.” It is assumed that the pen must be recognized as a pen so that a person can get on with the business of writing. It is also considered useful for the child to form the category “pen.” But consider an alternative: What happens if we instruct the child that “this could be a pen”? This conditional statement, simple as it seems, is a radical departure from telling the child “this is a pen.” What if a number of ordinary household objects were introduced to a child in a conditional way: “This could be a screwdriver, a fork, a sheet, a magnifying glass”? Would that child be more fit for survival on a desert island (when the fork and screwdriver could double as tent pegs for the sheet, near a fire made by the magnifying glass)? Or imagine the impact of a divorce on a child initially taught “a family’ is, a mother, a father, and a child” versus “a family could be…”

Ellen J. Langer, Mindfulness AM, p124

To the jaded eye, most of the paragraph can be easily dismissed as an extravagant, pie-in-the-sky rambling, and I dismissed it so when I first read it — so what if kiddos would make better Robinson Crusoes^WP^? Should we realign our education for that? — but then the last lightning sentence comes and in its flash we glimpse the world that could be. Do you see?

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