Although a six-year-old child would hardly digest the 500 pages of theory of justice of John Rawls or concepts such as beauty, justice or truth, Carlos Javier González Serrano (Madrid, 37 years old) defends that philosophy and the humanities have much to contribute to personal development from childhood. 20 years after starting the Ethics subject at the San Gabriel school, he returned to this center in the Madrid neighborhood of Carabanchel as a high school Philosophy and Psychology teacher. He combines teaching with his publications on the humanities between academia and popularization; He collaborates with the Spanish Society for Schopenhauer Studies and in magazines such as National Geographic or National Radio programs. In The world according to Leahhis first book, compiles several stories where he uses Socrates to Hannah Arendt to invite the little ones to wonder about happiness, the passage of time, the relationship with nature or personal identity.
Ask. How are such existential reflections instilled in such young people?
Answer. At four or five years old, children are already asking themselves purely philosophical questions. We cannot explain Hannah Arendt’s theory of justice, but we can talk about certain rudiments to think about the concept of authority, for example. They already begin to think about why they have to listen to their parents, their teacher or society, and the rebellions begin. Children also think.
Q. What lessons does childhood bring?
R. We must recover the attitudes we have as children, such as curiosity and wonder. Some mothers and fathers have told me that they sit down with the book after reading it to their children. They do something as simple as start to wander through their thoughts, to travel in an indeterminate way, without wanting to reach any fixed point; today everything is determined to reach a goal. As adults we realize that we share this concern with them, but we decide to lose it because the world becomes absolutely daily for us.
Q. You warn that children also have trouble stimulating their curiosity.
R. They go from screen to screen and lose your attention. They know that anytime they are bored they can go to those constant stimuli, they are surrounded by noise. Before, technology was seen as something exceptional. When I bought my first cell phone, it was enough to send SMS and little else, plus the balance ran out: now there is no limit. Our kids have less and less impulse control because they are constantly subjected to this instantly gratifying hyperstimulation. Now what we have to do is to revolutionize the look again, to amaze that look again.
Children need limits with which to be able to collide, but they also need to express themselves”
Q. What other obstacles do you face to begin to form your thinking?
R. When I explained to a kindergarten girl in the corridor that the philosophy consisted of asking us questions, she replied: “I don’t stop asking myself things and they always tell me to shut up.” We are very used to giving answers of the type “this is so because I say so”. Children need limits with which they can collide, but they also need to express themselves; have a space that many times in homes or schools are not given due to the frenetic pace we have. If they are denied their voice, the ability to dialogue is denied, and that is essential in philosophy.
Q. What are the consequences of being deprived of that space?
R. Children’s concerns are a reflection of adult concerns. The psychologist Marino Pérez talks about this problem: we are not giving them a voice and all we are doing is giving them all our demands for hyper-productivity, hyper-profitability and hyper-speed. You have to do 4,000 activities that perhaps as a child do not correspond to you because we are introducing schemes and expectations of adult life.
Q. How do you see these dynamics reflected in your day-to-day life with your students?
R. There are many psychological disorders and conditions that are now being named, such as the “light hunter.” She falls asleep with her phone face up next to her bed, so if it lights up, she knows she has a notification and has to respond instantly. Then hypercompetitiveness conveys that the other is more than me if it has more impact on the networks, if they leave the message unchecked… All this has to do with the constant and unhealthy dependence on what happens outside.
It is being diagnosed so much that we are normalizing any type of symptomatology that seems to respond to an emotional disorder
Q. What tools can philosophy provide here?
R. All this begins to be countered when we put intellectual weapons on them so that they simply ask themselves “what am I doing” and go to the roots of who we are. The first thing I do with my students at the beginning of the course is to give them a piece of paper with the question “who am I?”. Some write me three pages; others, three lines. Experience tells me that these kids, between the ages of 15 and 17, have never done that exercise. It is very important to develop that Socratic narcissism, that is, to focus on what we are regardless of the world. The new generations do not act because of what they themselves think, but because of the external validation they receive. You have to invite them to look inside themselves and not constantly compare themselves with the world.
Q. What about the challenges of mental health?
R. They cannot talk to anyone about their discomfort, they have to turn to someone with training. Psychologists are needed more than ever. Now, so much is being diagnosed that we are normalizing any type of symptomatology that seems to respond to an emotional disorder. If my friend or my friend has an eating disorder, I’m going to ask myself why I don’t have any disorder, I’m going to look at forums and I’m going to start self-diagnosing myself. Adolescents function by group and by imitation, I am not telling you about children anymore. We have to ask ourselves, that is why philosophy and the humanities are so important, a critical vision of why we are doing this. If we get used to the fact that we are all bad, no one will know what is good and why we should be good. If we are all sick and tired, if we do not find satisfaction in anything, in the end we are not going to know what we want, what is good, what is bad and what is much worse, we are all going to be absolutely psychologized.
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