Introduction by Anna Jahns
Magical Child, a classic work, profoundly questions the current thinking on childbirth practices, parenting, and educating our children. Now its daring ideas about how Western society is damaging our children, and how we can better nurture them and ourselves, ring truer than ever.
From the very instant of birth, says Joseph Chilton Pearce, the human child has only one concern: to learn all that there is to learn about the world. This planet is the child’s playground, and nothing should interfere with a child’s play. Raised this way, the Magical Child is a happy genius, capable of anything, equipped to fulfil his amazing potential.
Expanding on the ideas of internationally acclaimed child psychologist Jean Piaget, Pearce traces the growth of the mind-brain from birth to adulthood. He connects the alarming rise in autism, hyperkinetic behaviour, childhood schizophrenia, and adolescent suicide to the all too common errors we make in raising and educating our children. Then he shows how we can restore the astonishing wealth of creative intelligence that is the birthright of every human being. Pearce challenges all our notions about child rearing, and in the process challenges us to re-examine ourselves. Pearce’s message is simple; it is never too late to play, for we are all Magical Children.
Interaction is a two-way exchange of energy, with an amplification of the energy of each of the two forces. Ordinary action is a one-way movement of energy toward or against something. When I chop down a tree, I expend my energy without a corresponding exchange of energy from the tree. Action usually brings about a reaction; the tree falls, and I have to get out of the way. Reaction is a one-way movement away from. No exchange and augmenting of energy takes place in either acting or reacting, and we always tire when energy flows out in this way. In true interaction, however, we never tire.
Through interaction, intelligence grows in its ability to interact. We are designed to grow and be strengthened by every event, no matter how mundane or awesome. The flow of nature and seasons, people, extreme contrasts, apparent catastrophes, pleasantries, all are experiences of interaction to be enjoyed and opportunities for learning, leading to greater ability to interact.
With what is human intelligence designed to interact? With anything and everything possible. If there is anything intelligence cannot interact with, that intelligence is to that extent crippled. A fully developed intelligence is one designed to exchange energies with anything existing, without ever being overwhelmed. A mature intelligence should be able to interact on three levels that correspond to and arise from the three stages of biological growth. These levels are: first, the ability to interact with the living earth according to the principles and natural laws of this earth; second, the ability to interact with the earth according to the principles of creative logic developed in the mind-brain system; and third, the ability to interact with the processes and products of the mind-brain system itself, which means the thoughts and creations of our own mind, the mind of others, and the whole thought system underlying our reality. Any definition of intelligence that does not encompass these three categories of interaction is incomplete. Any development of intelligence that does not move through these three modalities falls short of the biological plan for intelligence and betrays nature’s three billion year investment and trust.
We have seen how these three ways of interaction are also the three matrices that should form in the developmental years. As adults, we should have three safe places to stand on at any time: the earth, our relationships, our own power of thought. And, of course, we should have these safe spaces as sources of possibility from which to choose experience and as sources of energy with which to explore those possibilities.
How should this ability develop? Only by a full development of each of the matrices in the order arranged by the biological plan; developing a knowledge of the world itself, then a knowledge of the creative relationship possible with that world, and then a knowledge of creative relations and possibilities themselves. Development can take place only on the foundation given by the child’s actual body movements, making sensory contact with the world of things and processes. The growth of intelligence rests on a sensorimotor process, a coordination of the child’s muscular system with his/her sensory system and general brain processes.
Any bodily involvement by the early child brings about a patterning in his/her brain system concerning that movement and all the sensory information related to it. For instance, a parent can manipulate the limbs of a newborn infant, and even though they are not initiated by the infant, the bodily movements will in themselves bring about a corresponding pattern of activity in the brain concerning that ability. If repeated sufficiently, these arbitrarily induced puppetlike movements (such as achieving head balance, sitting up, grasping) will lead to that infant’s ability to initiate and complete these movements months ahead of an infant who is not so stimulated. The brain patterns for sensorimotor coordinates form automatically.
Intellectual growth is an increase in ability to interact, which means a coordinated flow of the mind-brain-body with the experience at hand. This increase can only take place by the infant-child’s interacting with new phenomena. That is, intelligence can only grow by moving from that which is known into that which is not yet known, from the predictable into the unpredictable. The institutionalised child, for instance, does not grow intellectually. Mental retardation is inevitable when the physical environment is unvaried, when new stimuli are almost nonexistent (staring at a gray ceiling or the walls of a crib day and night), and above all, when there is no bodily contact with a stable caretaker to furnish a known matrix. Moving into the unknown is possible only when there is a secure matrix to which the child can make an immediate return, and the younger the child, the more immediate and constant this return must be.
The early child thinks in action and acts his/her thinking. Intellectual growth is a biological process, taking place below awareness as nonconsciously as the growth of hair or teeth. Our conscious awareness is the end product of biological functions. The infant-child learns from every interaction, and all future learning is based on the character of these early, automatic body-brain patterns. This primary sensory organisation and response takes precedence over all future learning, even though it never becomes conscious in any ordinary sense. Rather, this base structure furnishes consciousness as well as the possibilities for future learning.
The only criterion we have for what the infant, child, young adult, or adult is learning or has learned, is interaction. Can the child or person interact, or is his/her life one long chain of reactions to, or acts of aggression against? When people express reaction-aggression, they are expressing not just a crippled intelligence, but what they have actually learned.
Growth of the infant-child’s ability to interact means increased rhythmic patterning in the brain and corresponding muscular responses. This growth can be slowed almost to a standstill by subjecting the growing child to demands inappropriate to his/her stage of development, that is, by trying to force the child to learn or deal with information or experience suitable to a later stage of development, or by keeping them locked into an earlier stage. Then the child learns that learning itself is difficult and frustrating or nonrewarding. Even when the child manages to comply with demands suitable to a later stage, premature involvement can cripple intelligence, although the damage may not show for years.
For instance, abstract knowledge, such as adult idea systems and opinions, is designed for the later years of development. Forcing the early child to deal prematurely with adult abstract thought can cripple the child’s ability to think abstractly later on. The first ten years or so are designed for acquiring a full-dimensional knowledge of the world as it is and learning how to interact with it physically and mentally. This growth of knowledge and ability should lead to the ability to survive physically in the world. With the security of a full knowledge of survival, the young person could then move freely into abstract thought. His/her intelligence could then attend the true maturation of the mind-brain. Not incidentally, the concrete knowledge from which survival grows is also the concrete structure of knowledge out of which abstract thought arises.
A shallow-dimensional world view, based only on the long-range senses of sight and sound, is often the kind of knowledge constructed by the child. Direct physical contact with the world, taste, touch, even smell, are often either discouraged or actually forbidden in the parent’s anxiety over the hazards of germs and imagined threats. Without a full-dimensional world view structured in the formative years, no earth matrix can form, no knowledge of physical survival can develop, and no basis for abstraction and creativity can arise. A permanent anxiety and obsessive-compulsive attachment to material objects will result. And anxiety always cripples intelligence; it blocks the development of muscular-mindedness, the ability to interact with the unknown and unpredictable. Anxiety is the source of the fall of the child somewhere around age nine. Its roots are deep, its branches prolific, its fruit abundant, and its effects devastating.
Copyright © Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1977
Published with permission, byronchild/Kindred, Issue 2, June 02