Are We Denying Turere his Childhood?

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It is no secret, we are all learning from children, and childhood to be specific; the mind of the child is unbridled with the worries of life that stop us from taking risks and following our impulses.

A child Turere’s age and curiosity has a high chance of being creatively polymath-as opposed to limited to conservation technology and physics. A child has the perfect ‘beginners mind which lacks preconceptions, has an attitude of eagerness and openness and is eager to learn. The mind of the child is

…”hard-wired to be creative, imaginative and innovative- abilities that often diminish along the way. “

....open to exploration, discovery and experimentation. They learn about their world around them by pushing the limits, discovering what’s possible and what’s not.

This is not the patent application design....I hope.

This is not the patent application design….I hope.

Among the things you will learn if you Google ‘How to Teach my child to innovate‘ is the need to de-emphasize patents, distinguish between problem solving skills and innovation skills and approach innovation as a general skills-based activity.

Richard Turere is a charming and curious soul, as his TED talks and numerous interviews have shown. He is a fast learner and an innovator at heart; the passion is clear in his eyes. One only needs to look at him to realize that that is a boy who is mentally ahead of his physical age. Therein lies the problem, the fact that in a world bereft with new ideas and media glitz, we want our celebrities younger and weirder. We want them to shine yet in our media-hungry generation, do not give them enough time to come up with new ideas. No one can master creativity, I doubt anyone ever will. Combine this media pressure to discuss an idea already patented and over-marketed and you realize that we might be denying a young boy the chance to act his age.Richard-Turere

In the numerous interviews with media houses, Turere discussed how his invention was a product of his curiosity. The aforementioned passion could clearly be seen as being a child’s curiosity, the willingness to try out new things without holding back. That passion knows no boundaries and with a father like his, can go overboard and into what others would call ‘child endangerment’ (the risk of electrocution). Yet we have hoodwinked ourselves to see past all that and to see a boy innovator…The truth is, being in the limelight is physically and mentally demanding. The pressure to perform is even higher when the celebrity in question is a child who is still in his developmental years.

He made the lion lights when he was eleven, he is now fourteen and older, hopefully wiser. The lights have probably saved more lions than a blog post like this one would but the question is, have they lost his childhood? Have our obsessive (rightly so) conservation efforts tossed a young boy into an adult world he might not be ready for? One where dark-continent-is-the-new-frontier newsworthy stories-hungry international media are falling over each other to get his story?

I would guess that this photo was staged, there is a clear disconnect...

I would guess that this photo was staged, there is a clear disconnect…

So instead of letting him stay in the environment that nurtured his idea, of open spaces where he could run wild and free and read books as he herded his family’s cattle, we tossed him into a polluted, concrete jungle, fast-moving world we think he needs. Instead of letting him continue to see the world from the most basic points where he could see links between simple things like busted bulbs and batteries, we tossed him in a world where we can give him all the inputs and the ‘right environment’ to innovate. There is no right environment to innovate, the best ideas are borne out of curiosity and as has been the trend in Africa and particularly Kenya, necessity.

The move to get him out of his school into an international school was good PR but a validation of the truth we all know, our schools are not good enough. But I forward that they are not good enough because we do not let them. Consider this, Turere came up with his novel idea when he was still in his former school. He did not need a fancy environment to see the human-wildlife conflict was not going to end well for either species, nor did he need to ‘the right facilities’ to shine. Then the African mentality hits, the one that has held back the middle class in the limbo of thinking that anyone who is not in a Nairobi school is getting substandard education. It is a unit of the European concept of ‘uncivilized’ as anything ‘non-European’…but I digress.

While I may not agree fully with this one, I understand his frustration with TED.

While I may not agree fully with this one, I understand his frustration with TED.

The world loves a good ‘African success story‘, one where a character manages to see the outside of the poverty cycle, with the assistance of ‘donors.’ The Kibera story, now a stale over-told story of a poverty cycle that has merely keeps NGOs busy has shown that the poverty cycle is a state of mind, not a situation to be solved with just clean sanitation and better schools.

If we are ever to curve our own in a world full of too many ‘novel ideas’ and with an obsession for innovation, we need to refocus our energies on allowing innovators to do what they know best. If they are young, we should nurture them in their own environments where they can inspire other children to think up new ways of doing old things. What we are doing now, with Turere in particular, is to inspire young kids to think that their only ticket out of their current lives is media blitz and glitz. We are not making a generation of intellectual innovators, merely one that will work to seek glory and validation. We have all seen what happens when a child is thrown into such a world that early with celebrity stars like Gary Coleman. The media blitz ends when the young men begin to date and grow a beard. For others, fans never see you beyond the role you played as a child, best example being Daniel Radcliffe, or, and it is okay not to know who that is, Harry Potter. Of course to compare child innovators to child stars who didn’t make it would be unfair and overly simplistic because there is a Jason Bateman, Christian Bale, Elizabeth Taylor and Jodie Foster for every Gary Coleman and Corey.

Consider what Wanda Behrens Horrell says of child actors in this article

Child actors often are overprotected and pampered, which can lead to difficulties in learning how to attend to everyday tasks… They can feel awkward when socializing with their normal peers. In other ways, they are overdeveloped as a result of having been exposed to the fast-paced and lucrative world of show business.

Will we, four years from now when Turere can vote, buy alcohol, join the army and (legally) have sex, know him as anything more than just the genius boy who invented the lion lights and nothing else? Or will this post be vindicated by a young adult with the passion still gleaming in his eyes and in his cloud storage a host of patents and gadget designs?

I will let George Carlin put it into perspective..”When does a child get to just be a child?”

Owaahh

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Comments

  1. cliff says:

    I do not agree with you about this article to a greater extent. Lack of opportunities is the main reason many good ideas do not go beyond their nascent stage and that Turere was taken to an international school because of his genious is the best thing that could ever happen to such a bright young boy from a hardship area where he wasn’t sure about his future education. Afterall, in international schools they do a lot in developing talents and innovations more than they do in our public schools so he is not at a loss rather on the path towards realising his dream. Just let him be and appreciate that he got an opportunity not many kids are lucky to get because of their innovative skills!

    1. Owaahh says:

      Hey Cliff,
      I was asking a question, what is the other side of the coin? We had Bethuel Mbugua long before Turere, all round genius with almost nothing to show now. My key question is whether uprooting our children from the environment that inspires and challenges them to innovate is the right thing to do. International schools have more resources, hence more mainstream opportunities, they also have more competition, a greater cultural shock. This is a question that will only be answered by time, let’s wait and see whether we have made an innovator or we have stifled his growth and genius.