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July, 2005

Vision and the Fight for a New World: My Utopia

By Lauren Ingraham

"People need to learn to become like children. Children can fly. Everything is possible to a child." - Chinua Achebe (From a 1994 Public Affairs Television video recording produced and directed by Gail Peillett)

When I heard the great Nigerian author say this in a video interview, it struck a chord with me. This is because I began to be more aware of society when I started working with children. I saw in young children's eyes hope and excitement to learn about the world around them. I saw that we ask a lot of children in a classroom, in some ways more than we ask of ourselves. Everyday, children practice three things that make their classroom run well - understanding, kindness, and sharing - ideas at the center of my vision of a Utopia.

First of all, in my utopia, no one will go hungry. Everyone will have a home and everything they need to live. Don't children learn better when they have every available resource at their fingertips? In a classroom we share everything. The Lego table belongs to no one. The play-dough is fair game. Everyone gets an equal amount of crackers. Every child has a cubbyhole and a cozy place to take a nap. Children can understand these concepts, why can't grown-ups?

In America today, there are already Wal-Marts on nearly every corner and in every small town. There is clearly no shortage of food and supplies. The world is capable of producing so much of everything. The problem is how people are allowed to receive these goods. In my Utopia everyone will of course be able to have whatever they need and probably then some. These stores can serve as the places people will go when they need toilet paper, lunch, or a new DVD player. If someone needs one of these items, they will be welcome to it. For homes, there are great big wide-open spaces in this world that will be used efficiently so that everyone can have what they need. No one will have to live under a bridge.

My first day on the job in a preschool, I walked out to my car thinking that this was the first job I had that made me feel really good about having a job. All my previous jobs were jobs robots could do. In a sense, now a robot or computer does my old job, checking out people from the grocery store. It is wonderful that people have learned to make technology that can make things a little easier or more convenient. But it is not wonderful that now there might be less jobs.

In my Utopia everyone will have work to do. It will be everyone's job to make sure that everyone has what he or she needs. Lots of people have different skills, talents, and abilities that will be useful in my Utopia. Sharing these capabilities will be key to building the best schools, homes, community centers, and places to get supplies.

In this Utopia, schools will be open to anyone who would like to come. Children will enjoy school because the programs will be geared toward what excites them based on their development. All schools will have the finest materials. Teachers will be there because they want to teach. Higher education will be free and open to any adult as well. People will go to colleges to learn rather than to simply obtain a higher wage job.

Just as dozens of kids come to help out when a child falls on the playground, the people in my Utopia will jump at the chance to help out their fellow man. Hospitals will be more than they have ever been, providing the very best care to everyone. Community centers will also be in place to support hospitals and schools and serve as places for people to gather and connect.

As our children learn to do, we will value, respect and appreciate different cultures and personal beliefs. We will help other lands as best we can if they wish us to. We can only live by example and share and be open with others. We will welcome the differences between people.

My Utopia will be open and encouraging to all forms of art. Art connects people and helps them understand the world around them. When a child paints a picture or creates a puppet show, that child does an invaluable service for his or her self and the rest of the group. People will be encouraged to make art, to write, to act, to do anything that strikes a dramatic chord in our hearts.

In my Utopia, government will exist solely to make sure these principles get carried out. If a person commits a crime against another person, a great deal of effort will go into understanding why that person committed that crime. Crime will generally be scarce in my Utopia because everyone will have his or her needs met. When someone does turn against the people of our community, we will know we need to help that person and understand their thinking. People will always be treated with respect and care no matter what act they have done. Sometimes this will be hard, but not as hard as the way we do things today.

It is hard to explain to children why they don't live in a big house or why they don't get to go to Disneyland like other children. It is hard to tell them that their mom or dad has lost his job because someone else across the globe will do it cheaper. It is hard to explain why their school can't afford musical instruments while across town the band has plenty. We start off teaching children about fairness and equality, and down the road, we take it back - teaching them that the world isn't fair.

Some parts of life will never be fair. We saw this when hundreds of thousands of people died because of an earthquake in the ocean last year. But surely when inequalities are only in place to protect the wealth of just a small fraction of the population, that injustice can be changed.

Chinua Achebe was right. People must learn to become like children. People must learn to understand the world before making judgments about right and wrong. Just like children in a classroom, people must learn to understand the differences between us. Kindness comes naturally to a child. With this kindness children create a nurturing and happy world for themselves. It makes sense to them to make sure everyone has enough. It makes sense to me to share the wealth of the world. It makes sense to not let children starve to death or go without health care. If people can embrace these ideas and work together as one to make it happen, then a revolution will take place. My utopian ideas are not that far fetched. I have seen children make them a reality.

Lauren Ingraham is an artist and teacher who works with children in Kansas City.


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