On the Wildness of Children

The revolution will not take place in a classroom



by Carol Black

“…A bear’s wild nature is evolved, over hundreds of thousands of years, to carry the impulse to roam at will over a territory of hundreds of square miles. When you put a bear in a cage, it paces relentlessly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until its paws bleed. The bleeding paws tell the zookeeper, if she is listening, a story; a story of wide open spaces, of rushing rivers teeming with fish, of wriggling grubs in the moist soil under rocks, of the fragrance of wild blueberries carried for miles on the wind.

“Some animals can live in cages. Squirrels and rats, pigeons and gulls, adapt and thrive under almost any conditions, no matter how far removed from their original nature. Others cannot adapt; they become dysfunctional, traumatized; they “fail to thrive.” You can find their stories in the zookeepers’ manuals. They pace till their paws bleed, they regurgitate their food, they pull out their own fur or pluck out their own feathers. They become abnormally aggressive, abnormally fearful. Or they just sicken and die.

“Some of our children, it turns out, are more like pigeons and squirrels, and some are more like bears. Some of them adapt to the institutional walls we put around them, and some of them pace till their paws bleed. The bleeding of these children, if we listen, can tell us many stories about ourselves…”

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"Generations from now we'll look back and say, 'How could we have done this kind of thing to people?'"