This post was written by Hanna Greenberg and was originally published in The Sudbury Valley School Journal, volume 30., number 4, March 2001.
“When God began to create heaven and earth, the universe was chaos and disorder, and darkness enveloped the void.” (Genesis 1:1)
One day I was driving along, listening to the radio. I don’t remember what the subject was but the word “chaos” was mentioned and it got me to thinking about my grandchild, Bella. She is six months old and as you may assume I am absolutely besotted by her. What is so alluring, compelling and fascinating about her is the way she is devouring the world with her wide open eyes. I hold her in my arms and watch her looking around. I feel that she is calm, yet at the same time she is working hard at focusing with concentration and purpose on what she sees. It occurred to me that for a newborn infant the whole world is a stranger. Only the mother is familiar, somewhat–not visually, but auditorily. The baby knows the inner sounds of its mother’s body from being in utero for nine months and hearing her heartbeat and her voice. We all are familiar with the mutual staring of mothers and their newborns. It seems that though they know and love each other from before the birthing, they still need to see each other.
At birth, the mother and baby, who have just become separate entities, are at the same time bonding and falling in love with each other. All new mothers and their infants spend the first period after birth in mutual staring at each other. When they know each other visually the staring of the baby is diverted to the whole world around it. Everything in the world is new to the baby. Nothing makes sense or is predictable except its mother. The world is chaotic. The baby’s job is to make sense and understand this chaos. I know that I am very uncomfortable when things are chaotic around me, when they are unpredictable or not understandable. Bella is at ease with chaos. She sits there serenely in my arms and she looks and looks at everything. By the time she was several months old she started to grab at things and again I noticed how well she coped with her own lack of muscle control. She simply worked at grabbing and accepted not succeeding with total calm. It seems to me that she knows somehow that there is a lot of work to be done to make sense and order out of the chaos of this world. She is comfortable in this situation. I daresay she embraces it with joy. She finds the chaos interesting, challenging and exciting.
To a large extent, the life of the children at Sudbury Valley is chaotic. Every day they do what they want to do without a guiding adult showing them the way to learn about the world and prepare them for adulthood. It is their job and it is done in their own particular way. They are busy and intent on their pursuits but they don’t seem to be uncomfortable or anxious about their ability to do their job of growing up and figuring out the world around them and their place in it. It is the adults who are worried about them. I think that is because we are uncomfortable with chaos. We hate unpredictability; it makes us insecure. The children are fine. They go about their lives with confidence and joy. And in fact by the time they are grown up and ready to enter the world at large they acquire the tools they need to be effective adults. How they did it we don’t understand, because it was in a haphazard, unsystematic manner, but we do see that they have done it. The challenge to us the adults (parents and staff) is to acknowledge the fact that children are equipped for making sense out of chaos from the day they are born. It is our responsibility to nurture them and allow them to figure out the world on their own. We have to learn to appreciate the chaos for its richness and wonder. We need to relinquish our own need for order and control. We need to be calm in the whirlwind of activity of the children and trust it to lead them to understanding of the world without our anxious interference.