Is it any wonder, then, that in this American Nightmare of the '90s, so many parents are failing at the most important task they will ever have? And it's getting worse! "Back to school" has a different shade of meaning than it did even ten years ago. Read the arrests in the paper, and the ages of boys and girls running afoul of the law should convince any skeptic that something needs to be done to get back to basic family values. With the guideline that "everyone is doing it" as the dictum for rearing children, parents have been failing to be parents, leaving their responsibility to preschool, day care, and public school. They have been sowing the wind, and the public has been reaping the whirlwind.
Maybe something can be gained by looking back, by retrenching, especially if we are open to what Native Americans knew before the arrival of the white man. Ohiyesa, a Santee Sioux who took the White man's name of Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, wrote about his people and their customs during the last half of the 19th Century. "It is commonly supposed that there was no systematic means of education for Indian children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All the customs of our people were held to be divinely instituted, and customs involving the training of children were scrupulously adhered to and transmitted from one generation to another."
True, they didn't have institutions of learning, school houses, textbooks or chalkboards, but they were surrounded by the natural world, and from the very beginning, they became conscious of their relationship to all of life. The Great Mystery and the spiritual world were real to them in all, beyond all, not to be dissected or solved, but always honored. "We taught our children by both example and instruction," he wrote, "but with emphasis on example, because all learning is a dead language to one who gets it secondhand."
And unlike the public schools of today, which seem to stress technical knowledge but ignore wisdom, Dr. Eastman notes that "we considered the fundamentals of education to be love of the Great Mystery, love of nature, and love of people and country."
Even before modern science discovered that a pregnant woman can poison the fetus by drinking and taking drugs, the "savage, uncivilized" Indians knew that the condition of the mother-to-be, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, had a profound effect on the life she carried in her. With conviction born of wisdom, Ohiyesa points out, "Our education begins in our mother's womb. Her attitude and secret meditations are such as to instill into the receptive soul of the unborn child the love of the Great Mystery and a sense of kinship with all creation." Since the serenity of the mother-to-be is so vital to the life forming in her, "She isolates herself as much as possible, and wanders prayerful in the stillness of the great woods, or on the bosom of the untrodden prairie, not thoughtlessly, but with an eye to the impressions received from the grand and beautiful scenery."
Why did my ancestors invest so much of themselves into the careful rearing of the children of the tribe? Obviously they knew something that seems to have been forgotten in the "high-tech, state of the art, cutting edge, win-win" America of the '90s. The future of the world is with us now. Listen! I hear the cry of a newborn baby.