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  • Writer's pictureThe Pedagogue

Boxsets, upbringing and our image of children..

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

I've been refering to upbringing, Mollenhauer's Forgotten connections and Strangers Things when telling you about this blog.

I would like to explain a bit more about it all, as I'm not sure many people know about this man, his ideas and how we can use this here, in the UK!

So Klaus Mollenhauer is a german pedagogue, philosopher and anthropologist. He was most active in post war Germany, and only recently his books have started to be available in English!

Mollenhauer wrote the book in the photograph on the right to support social pedagogues' thinking about their relationship with children, the purpose of their work and to highlight ways in which children are also engaging in this process. He does this by asking 5 questions, and illustrate them with work of art from a christian, western tradition.

Those questions are:

1- Why do we want to have children? (Upbringing and Bildung)

2- What way of life do I present to children by living with them? (Presentation)

3- What way of life ought to be systematically represented to children?


4- How can I help children/young people to become self-starters and support their growth? (Bildsamkeit; Self-Activity)

5- Who am I? Who do I want to be, and how do I help others with their identity problems? (Identity)

I think the examples Mollenhauer uses can be rather offputting and convoluted because they are drawn from a very specific cultural heritage. One of the points Mollenhauer is making is that this process happen in different cultures, and that the references one uses to pass on the messages we think are important to children can be taken from any cultural group!

So, i've been looking for different cultural references and boxsets seems to be where I ended up!

And so Stranger Things and Breaking Bad are two series where i've found some examples of Mollenhauer's 5 questions. Do you know in Stranger Things the bit in Season 1 when El comes to Mike's house for the first time and he hides her in the basement? This is the beginning of a story when we see him becoming a bridge between her and his friends, Hawkins and the rest of the world. He listens to her, he tries to understand her, and suggests ways in which she can connect to others. He advocates for her and shows her how things are done in his world. There is a thread runing through many episodes of the series that Mollenhauer would call upbringing. It's not until the end of the 3rd series that she becomes fully herself, makes her own decisions and crucially is trusted by those who care for her that she knows what's best for her. In this upbringing, there are specific moments that are crucial in her story, and you can watch the clips to remind yourself of it...

Here Mike is a bridge El and the rest of the world, he is focused on her and in doing so, makes it easier for her to find her place....This is not totally selfless however, his own interests and needs interfere in his decisions towards her.

This second clip needs a bit of context to really understand the point. El has been living, hidden, at Hooper's for many months and he makes her safe by keeping her away from her friends and civilisation. While it makes sense to do this because of her past, (she escaped from a human experiementation centre where 'Papa' is the chief scientist/torturer), Hooper's focus on protection completely ignores El's own future and what she'd like to do with it! And El sees through this, and calls the bluff up. Hooper cannot find the balance between protection and growth by himself, because this is something El has to participate in. So, in a way, it is only through this tug-of-war between both of them that she can truly find who she wants to be.... And she will, by running away!

So through following El's character (and this happens through all the 3 series) we can understand a bit what is the essence of the relationship between generations. This is what Mollenhauer wants us to try and thing about when he asks: "Why do we want to have children?", and if Hooper had asked himself what kind of adult El would become, talked with her about it, they might have found a way to explore this together. But he's too scared for her, and he hasn't really asked himself the question: Why do I want her with me? It's obvious knowing that he has lost his own daughter, but part of any pedagogical work is to distinguish our own needs from that of our students.

Now there is another question Mollenhauer asks, about the kind of world we want systematically represented to children.

And to show you how it's relevant to anybody, here is a clip from Breaking Bad. It's interesting to look at Jessie's reaction but also at the viewer's because it draws on their answer to that question and its universal appeal.

If you don't want to watch the intro, move the slider to 4'15... There are several moments relevant in the entire episode, so you might enjoy watching further!

So Jessie is in a crackhouse, thinking he's alone, but a small child walks in, trying to watch TV. There is something in Jessie's view of the world that makes him question the channel the kid is choosing. Why does he think it's important he doesn't watch that specific programme? What's really shocking to us as well is that we realise that the adults in charge of this kid's world don't really make that distinction.That calls for drastic action, and it is hard to disagree with the fact that something needs to change in that house.

In this example we see how an emphasis on weapons in the way the world is filtered through that child's window on the world triggers clear judgments about the child's upbringing and the development of his personality. While violence is of course an important question Mollenhauer asks us to go much further than that. Another question we could ask would be: "Why do we insist on competition as a way to model relationships with each other within the English education system?" Or following recent debates on Black Lives Matter why is the education system systematically marginalising young people from working class, black or carribean background?

What do we need to protect children from, and what kind of effect will that have on their growth and development? How can we strike the balance?

Mollenhauer's work is culturally very european centric, but the value of his questions are universal and allow for discussion on different cultural heritages, and I am keen to find writings, art and other cultural artefacts that help discussion this.

So, what do we want for our children?

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