I’ve been a strong believer of that concept for the greatest part of my life. In my early years mostly out of instinct, it was somehow imprinted and confirmed by a multitude of angles: genetics, limbic system, nervous pathways, and environment. I truly exhibited such behavior without learning it. What was that? Nothing would attract my attention without including elements of emotions.
Luckily, while studying Colwyn Trevarthen’s Theory of Innate Intersubjectivity, all questions in life found a logical (yet emotional) answer.
More recently, Trevarthen (2001) has argued that the baby is also capable and interested from birth in engaging ‘protoconversationally’ with the dynamic thoughts and enthusiasm of caregivers […]
the so-called ‘complex’ emotions, the interpersonal sense of ‘pride’ in admired accomplishments, and ‘shame’ in being misunderstood or disliked, are part of the human condition. Powerful innate emotions of human relating, evident in infants, and different from those that establish and regulate attachment for care and protection, bring risks of mental illness associated with failure in collaborative intersubjectivity. (p. 95)
But let’s go back to where it all began…
It all started in New Zealand where teachers of the Maori tribe held a campaign for pre-school education, to demand a wider recognition of their language and their values. Their protest was seriously taken into consideration by the New Zealand government and led to the “Te Whariki” Movement, the main idea of which is: “Follow the child, the child is a thread woven into the body of society”.
This Movement even reached out to OECD, demanding an essential change in children’s education and supporting a non-technocratic and more humane direction.
Some years before that, Colwyn Trevarthen, a professor from New Zealand, teaching at the Universities of East London, Edinburgh, Crete and Strathclyde in Glasgow had given birth to his first son and had started observing his baby’s reactions and interactions. And that’s when the “Babies are not babies” concept and the theory of Innate Intersubjectivity were actually born.
Babies are not babies in the sense of simplistic thoughts, in the sense of emotions. They have pre-existed in their parents’ imagination and they come to life with certain traits and the ability to feel, connect, socialize, acquire and cause emotions and interactivity with the environment they grow up in. They come to life with the need to form relationships. And not just any relationship. I am talking about the deep ones.
So how do the relationships develop and deepen? Through a very important human need, the most vital one… warmth. This human, sweet, familiar feeling of acceptance and tenderness is the element that makes people learn. With reference to Freud, Bowlby, Winnicott, Heidegger, Darwin, and Bruner, Trevarthen puts emphasis on the important feeling of warmth. No one grows up without it and no one wants to learn without human tenderness.
Relationships are the first teachers. Stories, Music, Sounds, Lullabies, Daydreaming, Touching, Hugs, the Personal Truth of each one of us, Boredom, Sympathy, Love, every feeling and reaction, they all are essential prerequisites for every child (and adults of course) to healthily grow up.
Therefore… to move forward, this world needs emotion, says Trevarthen, as well as space for individualism. As parents, teachers, scientists, students — forever — we are in need of an artistic approach of any kind so that feelings and reactions will start to formulate. We are in need of literature, poetry, music and of course, storytelling. We are in need of enough space to breathe, as well as closeness, preferably a selective one. To grow, to learn, to acquire skills, to innovate, we need human emotions. It’s the power to make dreams come true and the power that creates bonds, knowledge and finally education.
Instead of looking for new ways to innovate, new ways to attract your students’ attention, first speak directly to their hearts. Give them the chance to express themselves, urge them to write or narrate their personal stories, their view of life, their dreams. Remember to repeat that often as feelings change and needs differentiate. Give them the words and expressions to do so and guide them, do not try to manipulate or force knowledge that is bare and not meaningful at all. Instead of looking for new kinds of complex methods of teaching, new activities, a new start with the basic ones. Feel, Learn and then Teach. Not vice versa. It’s just against our human nature.