A few weeks ago our youngest son came home from kindergarten with a hand decorated manifesto entitled “The 10 Natural Rights of Children.” We learned through this manifesto that it was the International Day of Rights for Children and that a local radical educator, Gianfranco Zavalloni, had put together these rights with this thought in mind:
“Very often, in recent times, we find ourselves reflecting and discussing the problem of the rights of boys and girls. The first thing I generally do, when I deal with these issues, is to put myself in the shoes of boys and girls. In fact, I believe that it is important to remember. [It is important] to think of ourselves again as children, think back to when we were boys and girls.
It is good to ask yourself some questions: What were our rights? Who guaranteed them? Were we aware of our rights or were they a completely natural fact? Starting from these questions and the answers that I have collected and that I am collecting from hundreds of adults, I have been trying for some time now to make teachers, parents, educators and politicians understand how important and fundamental certain rights are.
For us they were perhaps obvious, but they are not today for the boys and girls of our territories, cities and countries of the Northern part of the world. If I were to make a contribution today to the rewriting of the International Charter of the Rights of the Child, I would certainly add these rights among the ‘fundamental’ ones.”
The rights are:
- THE RIGHT TO LEISURE, to experience moments of time not planned by adults
- THE RIGHT TO GET DIRTY, to play with sand, earth, grass, leaves, water, stones, twigs
- THE RIGHT TO SMELLS, to perceive the taste of smells and recognize the scents offered by nature
- THE RIGHT TO DIALOGUE, to listen and to be able to speak, put in a word and converse
- THE RIGHT TO USE ONE’S HANDS, to drive nails, saw and scrape wood, sandpaper, glue, mold clay, tie ropes, light a fire
- THE RIGHT TO A GOOD START, to eat healthy foods from birth, drink clean water and breathe fresh air
- THE RIGHT TO THE STREET, to play freely in the square, to walk the streets
- THE RIGHT TO THE WILD, to build a play shelter in the groves, to have reeds in which to hide, trees to climb on
- THE RIGHT TO SILENCE, to listen to the breath of the wind, the birdsong, the gurgle of the water
- THE RIGHT TO SHADES OF THINGS, to see the sunrise and its sunset, to admire the moon and stars in the night.
Very often recently I’ve seen a lot of discussions about human rights or constitutional rights, our rights to wear or not wear a mask, rights to vote or have ones’ vote disenfranchised, rights to be or not be vaccinated, rights to travel the world or travel to the corner market and find affordable food, rights to work, rights to healthcare. I have also begun a graduate program in Ecological Design Thinking, where we are exploring the Rights of Nature and serious “Wicked Problems,” the intractable problems we can’t hide from that may render our world unlivable in the not too distant future. Particularly how we grow food and take care of the soil is a huge issue, with estimates that there are only about 60 growing seasons left in our current industrial agricultural system.
And I think of my boys. I think of their right to grow up as I did, taking full advantage of these rights spelled out by an Italian educator a world away. We are all more interconnected now then ever before, and therefore also so much more vividly aware of the collective challenges we face.
Because we can’t host schools as we usually would during this part of the year, it’s been hard to feel the connection with the importance of our wider mission. Our boys thankfully have continued to go to school, and somewhat unexpectedly we were invited to our oldest’s school this week to help them build a garden in their courtyard there in downtown Forli. It’s not what I had imagined honestly, bringing in soil and adjusting my approach to bring the farm to them. But then I remember that they have rights. My boys and all children have a right to experience what I did as a child, even as we live through this pandemic, even as plans change and we adults adjust to whatever else may be coming. It is my obligation as an adult to look beyond my personal problems, agendas, and attitudes to sow seeds with the next several generations in whatever way I can. It was really a joy to see all of the kids in the school work their hands into the soil, rake and mix and get dirty with abandon. I saw them practicing their rights to change the way we’d planned things for them, get dirty, smell the rich odors of soil, talk with each other while ignoring me, try out tools and their bare hands in unfamiliar ways, breath fresh air, take back their school courtyard, touch some small space of wildness… and hopefully in the coming weeks and months they will take time to admire what they plant and grow there, away from the congratulations or bounty of a harvest, to just be with themselves in that space they are creating.