Sixteen Capabilities

On Sixteen Capabilities

A right angle turn toward a massive investment in our children—caring for each child everywhere and transforming the goals of childhood—would mark the next e noIn poch in human evolution.

Most children on this planet do not experience an optimal childhood, one that enables them as a trusted human being to become their best selves in life — acting with kindness and compassion, nourishing and maintaining health, and being stewards of the Earth. Children born in the decade of the 2020’s—especially those in less than adequate circumstances—have to have the agency and ability to act in concert to alter massive, entrenched forces to right economic wrongs and bond with others in care and love. That transformation possibility evolves by agreement to make a considerable investment in achieving the possibilities we imagine for every child by age six.

We Live in a Time of Transition

If we wish to start a long overdue reinvestment, restitution, and revolution, we can join forces across all cultures and societies by building on our natural, human aspirations to raise our children in a way that’s an improvement for them. Any successful step toward planetary welfare must include wise investments in young children. Now. This decade. Our climate anD ecology depends on enabling human children to be capable of that good work.

Imagine we had a comprehensive framework for a wise investment in achieving change; don’t you think we should start on that right away? This year? Children are at the center of our commons, so they become the key to action in this time existential historical transformation.

Children born in 2020—in less than adequate circumstances—have to have the agency and ability to act in concert to alter massive, entrenched forces to right economic wrongs, bond with others in care and grace, and build the future of the human race.

“…letting those who have been most harmed be the ones to lead us through the transition.”

We Intend to Liberate

We don’t have time for minor tweaks to current systems. We have to build something entirely new that resonates strongly with the nature of human beings, across cultures, across the world. We have to change the ways we have been thinking about addressing the essential need for investment in young children and young families. We have to have a plan that cuts through existing power structures and expectations with its beauty and elegance. To make provable change within a short time, we have to agree upon a simple, natural, and liberating plan that provides stunning evidence of the impact of the evolution toward creative, altruistic human potential.

Since we are interconnected as never before in human history, we see evidence everyday of current failures and distorted systems entrenching themselves and suppressing possible alternatives. Soon the day will come, however, when the demand will be to build anew. To build what? What new system will actually change the world, right economic wrongs, and address planetary survival? What approaches will guide the discussion? Whose voices will we hear suggesting solutions?

Will we hear the wealthy and privileged call for minor fixes or tweaks or will we hear all of humanity call for starting anew based in what we know in our hearts and in our care?

Will a new way forward significantly alter the traditional structures of oppression and coercion?

Will the new way pursue moral and ethical choices?

Will we defer to authorities or will we listen to and learn from the children?

We know how to design systems that release the best of human aspirations and values, can we organize a way to do it around the world? Yes, if we start from what we know and agree to do.

We Define the Possibility

Sixteen Capabilities start from what we want to see young children do by age seven:


When children leave early childhood to enter common school they can:

  1. Participate as a member of an interdependent community
  2. Care for themselves, the others, and the community
  3. Treat others with love and compassion
  4. Cooperate with other children to accomplish group goals
  5. Celebrate group accomplishment
  6. Laugh and play with a tangible sense of joy
  7. Express many human emotions in language and art
  8. Be inquisitive
  9. Initiate new ideas and invent solutions to problems
  10. Stick at difficult tasks or come back to them later in order to succeed
  11. Run, hit, catch, throw, kick and tumble
  12. Sing and dance with exuberance
  13. Paint, draw, sculpt, and construct objects of beauty
  14. Care for common spaces and materials toward cleanliness and order
  15. Greet guests with courtesy and charm
  16. Act in stewardship for the environment and one’s own health and well-being.

A list like Sixteen Capabilities offers the possibility of creating the conditions to step toward that end for every child across the planet.

What is unique about this approach is it begins with listening and learning. The challenge of constructing agreement about what each community desires for their children when phrased as categories of daily life actions gives our connection a new visibility. Since we can see capabilities occur naturally without the need for testing, we can regard today’s day, with our babies or toddlers or four-year-olds, and discuss what is improving and what needs a tweak for this child we know and love.

No theory from outside has to guide us. Generalizations from elsewhere may not apply to this child or this community. No academic tradition defines wisdom; no historical method is imposed. The only “right” is what a community can see in each child, through eyes of compassionate care, guided by a tangible sense of joy.

We Invest Resources to Ensure a Future

A list like Sixteen Capabilities challenges the creation of early childhood opportunities guided by what a community values and evolves over years of sharing with other communities. Humans make mistakes and fix mistakes as communities learn what seems successful for the children they know and love. Instances of the Sixteen Capabilities are visible and collectable in folders and files from birth to age seven. These events provide an engaging opportunity for formal and informal discussion. Resources ensure regular, regional, cross-community sharing to support years of evolution towards an aesthetic ideal of optimal opportunities to grow children to be the best they can be.

We could consider it an economic extension of the womb.

We Can Begin Immediately

Could we gather a group of us to explore examining the capabilities we want for our young children—what any community anywhere regardless of their history or economic circumstance would desire?

We can’t miss the events unfolding today. We in the United States are in the midst of a ational call for Moral Revival. The problems are becoming more visible: the unchecked power of the police, an economic hierarchy that makes sure the labor of poor people is exploited for the wealth of the already wealthy, based in 400 years of exploitation and control by a powerful white establishment.

The pandemic of COVID-19 has exposed systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and systems of violence and militarism which has sustained this historical stratification. We are better able to see how capitalistic systems across the world have built coercive systems to maintain continuity of power. We can see how resources have been misspent to make the wealthy more wealthy and the exploited more exploited. Structures are failing, yet remain staunchly supported by media, by economic laws and policies, by a massive prison complex, by unchecked police, by border patrols and war, and, of course, by having a centrally-controlled public school system that controls children as it hides the truth of the past.

We can see the interlocking web that keeps people divided, impoverished, and ignorant. The key to it all has always been restricting the opportunities of women and children. It is time to make a major investment in children and young families.

We Build from Strength

People around the world are demonstrating to demand change, which is most assuredly coming, yet it is difficult to imagine what replacement systems would create a just and equal world. Although the way forward remains unclear, we have these certainties:

we have to revise existing economic power based in fossil fuels and environmental destruction in order to save the planet and many millions of lives of all species;

we have our natural human strengths of altruism and compassion;

we have a basic human wisdom that naturally enables us to tell when something is right or better;

we have our love for our children and constant desire generation after generation to make life better for our children;

we see in grandparent’s eyes an unconditional love for the unique potential of each child in the miracle of birth;

we have to invest in an ethical choice that causes no harm and brings the greatest good to the most people.

We Invite Others to Participate

I am asking us to begin today to go into communities we know have not been heard and listen to them. We can invite them to build, in concert with their community, a list, say sixteen items long, as a statement of possibility upon which they can reflect upon how to enhance the experiences for the children they know and love to fully actualize their genetic gifts.

We share these with each other and use them as a basis for a plan. As the climate heats and economies collapse major changes may happen quickly. When that time comes, it would be essential for those who care about children have a plan worked out, ready to implement, with proven effectiveness. People would have to see evidence of the benefit for an investment in revising the way we treat young children in the most important years of their lives.

…dismantle and re-imagine…

Sixteen Capabilities (listed again below) serve as a model for discussions to re-imagine investing in the lives of all children birth to six unfettered by the baggage of reform. It creates a clean break from traditional systems of power for people in less than ideal circumstances with a history of oppression to participate in a coordinated effort to re-imagine spaces and opportunities for their young children, in their own way, with their values and dreams.

With financial support for involvement and provisions for accessible spaces, all human beings could, for the first time in human history, make choices for their own children with clear, evolving values. The Values We Share page discusses the essential seven values upon which to evaluate the work: belonging, participation, well-being, joy, reciprocity, wholeness, and trust.

This truly revolutionary possibility could attract major investment in resources for all children in order to repair the world. So many problems we have in societies across the world, poverty, mental health, aggression, exploitation, corruption, and ignorance, are addressed directly by establishing local communities of care in a liberating and honoring way with a common focus on making life better for our children.

Reparations.

We Require Local Co-construction

By looking at the cluster of performances we hope to see in children prior to common school, communities can work out the specific opportunities necessary, each in their own way. In addition to providing significant financial support for cooperatively creating their own spaces and opportunities support would continue over time, including free opportunities for regional meetings and conferences. Local creativity is enabled and through sharing documentation in order to evolve toward an aesthetic ideal.

We Know Seven-year-olds We Admire

Instead of fixing broken systems or building on past assumptions, we start the evolution by enabling communities—in a cooperative, democratic, and creative way—to build from where they are now by first getting agreement upon what they want to be the end result of an ideal early childhood experience. They create a list of sixteen capabilities, such as this one, by describing a boy and girl around the age of six whom they have known and admire. After sharing their experiences, local groups construct a list of their sixteen ideal capabilities achieved by common school age.

The lists, of course, will vary. Each cultural group or community can, from the very beginning act in concert, to select where they invest the considerable resources they are given in opportunities for all children. They begin with who they are today, trusted to make mistakes and evolve toward these visible capabilities, all of which can be documented, reflected upon, and refined over time directly from a community’s own experience.

Any revolutionary approach to early childhood, which must be world-wide,

could never exist without establishing a basis of common agreement on goals

would have guaranteed sustained financial support and trust in fixing mistakes for at least a generation of evolution

could not succeed if an approach were imposed

must be a rewarding choice for the people involved

has to naturally resonate with people wherever they live

have immediate, visible benefits for families and children

economically support participation, and

generate a sense of agency in a continuing evolution.

We Advantage Digital Interconnection

At this time of crisis and disruption, a ready, well-articulated plan for children could attract investment if it were worked through and visible. Examples and documentaries could communicate this simple, trusting, culturally honoring new pathway to address critical needs through capable children. We certainly have world-wide communication. We are gaining a better understanding of the natural altruism and compassion of human children when treated well from birth. We have seen the social benefit of cooperative, democratic potential that exists in neighborhoods. These pieces would be in place to enable every child in the world to have an early life enabling them to be the best they can be, if we start immediately.

We can create widely agreed-upon goals to unite us, in an open and honoring way, in a revolution in the way we raise and educate young children.

We Metaphorically Think Carrots

I suggest Sixteen Capabilities as healthy veggies for a healthy childhood. Just as we don’t “make” carrots grow, we don’t “make” children grow. They grow as they do; we tend to the characteristics of the growing environment to become better farmers with richer soil improving year after year. We provide the sun, water and nutrients and keep the toxins away. Just as we can hold and taste carrots to determine genetic fruition, we gather performance events selected by our common aspirations for the early years of human beings.

We Deconstruct Assumptions

Contrary to common discourse, this list of outcomes is not academic: it is not built upon subject matter, such as numbers, letters and school readiness.
The list is not developmentally described: it is not age specific nor does it imply that a step in age is an improvement over what the child was before.
This list does not privilege a few white people or advocate a specific cultural approach that narrows choices for others out of fear of losing an existing privilege.
This list does not view children as individuals apart from their communities: children and young families remain included in their historical communities of care.

This list draws attention to what we DO want, revising the ways we have thought about common provisions for children we know and love; it brings our natural wisdom and compassion to the world stage.

This list trusts positive evolution will occur over time built upon a widening awareness of the common aspirations all people share for every human child. We naturally seek a rich childhood for our children and each others through broadened opportunities, continuous alteration, reciprocal communication, and democratic participation—doing good work.

This list provides a simple, comprehensible aim: one voice and clear demands when when we demand the resources we need as we gather with bankers, politicians, leaders in other parts of the globe, and especially when we gather with our friends to create a new way forward for our children, begun in this time of disruption.

Sixteen Performances

Prior to Common School Age, Children Can

  1. Participate as a member of an interdependent community
  2. Care for themselves, the others, and the community
  3. Treat others with love and compassion
  4. Cooperate with other children to accomplish group goals
  5. Celebrate group accomplishment
  6. Laugh and play with a tangible sense of joy
  7. Express many human emotions in language and art
  8. Be inquisitive
  9. Initiate new ideas and invent solutions to problems
  10. Stick at difficult tasks or come back to them later in order to succeed
  11. Run, hit, catch, throw, kick and tumble
  12. Sing and dance with exuberance
  13. Paint, draw, sculpt, and construct objects of beauty
  14. Care for common spaces and materials toward cleanliness and order
  15. Greet guests with courtesy and charm
  16. Act in stewardship for the environment and one’s own health and well-being.

A listing this brief challenges us to fight for full funding without compromise. We know the survival of the planet depends upon the creation of spaces where a spectrum of capabilities grow in diverse places with diverse participants within diverse cultures. 

Sixteen Capabilities are more than lofty aspirations: they are observable. Each can be photographed, videotaped, or described. Each record of an event that illustrates a capability could reside in a portfolio gathered from ages 1 to 6, where everyone can see evidence of how each human uniquely emerges into who they are.

These capabilities define the common intentions we have for provisions for spaces for children to grow in a community of parents, extended families, educators and staff — no matter what setting, at home, in the forest, or at school.

We Implement Revolutionary Love

With these as a guide, gatherings could focus on what a child did that was valuable to them, to others, and to the community. A instance of a child being inquisitive, acted in stewardship, were gracious, or danced. Such a collection would not only warm the heart but also be proof of accomplishment, a path well-taken, and an acknowledgement of public resources well invested.

This new beginning, funded, trusted, and non-specific, offers a path to growth for all of humanity. If we trust human beings, in concert with other communities, to share their experience, if we trust them to generate collaboratively the meaning of events and generate future possibilities, and If we trust them to establish and evolve to achieve their common desire, we may alter the course of history. If we look back, every human endeavor that has improved lives has had a long, exploratory, creative, and sometimes convoluted history.

We Turn to The People Most Harmed

Any list of capabilities desired for six- or seven-year-old children has to be viewed in its cultural context. A world full of places and histories surely would generate different lists, which would be a valued resource for everyone.

This list comes from my culture, in this case participants in my classes in early eduction at my college. Over many years I asked students in one course to think of two children, one boy and one girl, age 5 or 6, who immediately came to mind as really having their act together. I called them Hot Kids.

Participants wrote these 2 names on a piece of paper and wrote for 5 to 10 minutes about what it was that brought them to mind. What is it that they did or could do that was so amazing and delightful? Then they shared their experiences with these children in small groups of 3 to 5 people.

Afterward we compiled a listing of capabilities and actions on the board. What you see here in this list I call the Sixteen Capabilities combines the work of about 300 people of many cultures and backgrounds who were able to come to my college to study. Year after year the ideas became more clearly synthesized.

We’ve got a model that presents the general idea of agreement on possibility. We first turn to communities most harmed to lead the way. It’s their parade. We could consider the investment as one of many repirations.

We Listen

This way of thinking about provisions in the early years does not proscribe a method or constrain creativity, yet it provides a common vision to be creatively addressed by community involvement and direct financial support. Communities generate their own lists based in their culture and history and the six or seven-year-old children they admire. Each community’s construction serves as a resource for other communities in constructing their own lists. A video documentary of these discussions validates unique approaches and evolution.

Imagine a locally-constructed list of sixteen items. Those who participated in creating it from their experience have a starting agreement on what they want to see children be able to do before common school age. With their list—stated as observable capabilities—they could set collect instances of those events in children’s lives. A cooperative search for examples stimulates further discussion and refinement of meaning as the community evolves over the next five or so years. Action research. Grounded locally. Evolving in expanding cycles.

We Trust The Audiences who Care

The audiences who care collect children’s actions that document events of daily life, such as one child spontaneously providing what another child needs or arranging stones for their beauty. These photos and descriptions show a capability exists for each child that creates a picture of each unique child from infancy organized by that capability number. As families and friends share the events, usually with enthusiasm and awe, they come to understand the kinds of opportunities they value and create new ways for them to occur more often.

That is not the way it is today in most places in the world. In fact, we have either nothing or its opposite.

External Audiences

Under the perverse requirement for externally mandated assessment, a neoliberal dogma currently forces educators around the world to meet criteria that few read or care about. That same dominant discourse distorts the aims of early education as “readiness” for common school, a readiness narrowly defined by the privileged as precursors to acquiescence in authoritarian schools, and white supremacy.

If we implement any kind of assessment, let us first answer the question Who is the audience for any form of assessment? Whom are we addressing with the results of testing or the setting of standards? The needs of legislators? The parent-student-teacher association? The golf club? And further, who is making meaning of whatever results can be found? What does this result say? Is it good? Is that better? What could we change? We can’t make decisions about forms and methods of assessment without first deciding who cares, who makes meaning, and who corrects where necessary.

internal Audiences

We all know who cares about what is happening for young children.

The people who care—who can make meaning of the information and who can do something about it—are the child, the family, and the educators. 

The child cares about themself, obviously. The child’s family cares. The educators care, and the staff and administration care. Therefore, all assessment of provisions for children and childhood ought to be directed to these audiences in a form they understand. These are internal audiences. These audiences are the only people who can evaluate the worthiness of the information and the only people who can alter and improve those provisions.

We Create a New Political Discourse

When we speak of outcomes or goals for early education, I invite you to speak out about these Sixteen Capabilities and who actually cares about them to frame a revolutionary discourse, a discourse that speaks of children, families, society, and love.

We must keep the focus clearly on the child through the eyes of the audiences who care.

We must enable participation from all who care.

We must establish methods that are logical, transparent, and somewhat indefinite.

We must invest in the opportunities we decide are best right now, based on an evolving understanding of the common good.

This photograph shows an unusual sky field in the Milky Way band. It is centred on one of the classical, dark globules, known as Barnard 68 (B68) after the American astronomer, Edward E. Barnard (1857 - 1923), who included it in a list of such objects, published in 1919. It appears as a compact, opaque and rather sharply defined object against a rich, background star field. Even on this image that registers many faint stars in the area, not a single foreground star is observed. This is a clear sign that this globule must be relatively nearby. Interstellar clouds consist of gas and dust, including many molecules, some of which contain carbon atoms (i.e. organic). For a long time considered to be "holes in the sky", molecular clouds are now known to be among the coolest objects in the Universe (the temperature is approx. 10 K, or -263 °C). Moreover, and most importantly, they are nurseries of stars and planets. It still remains a mystery how a dark cloud like Barnard 68 at some moment begins to contract and subsequently transforms itself into hydrogen-burning stars. However, deep images of these clouds, such as this one obtained by FORS1 on VLT ANTU, may provide important clues. This small cloud seems to be in its very earliest phase of collapse. It has a diameter of only 7 light-months (approx. 0.2 pc) and it is located at a distance of about 500 light-years (160 pc) towards the southern constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent-holder). This three-colour composite was reproduced from one blue (B), one green-yellow (V) and one near-infrared (I) exposure that were obtained with VLT ANTU and FORS1 in the early morning of March 27, 1999. The field measures 6.8x6.8 arcmin 2. The image consists of 2048x2048 pixels, each measuring 0.20 arcsec; the "Full Resolution" version of the photo shows all of these. North is up and East is to the left. (See also ESO Press Release eso0102.)

In trying to define and practice a more centered way of thinking about pedagogy and provisions for our littlest humans, I have always felt like I am speaking into darkness. There appears to be a mysterious disconnect between so many people who love and care for children and those who are put in charge of deciding and administering public resources for early education. I understand that all public education funding is political, and surely, provisions for social justice for children and families is political, but all my colleagues and students complain to me of a stone wall of a distorted discourse that hides what most people actually believe is humane, compassionate, just, and beneficial for all. It feels like a dark force is present that no one addresses; something is blocking out the stars we know are there.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the economic, social, and happiness benefits that accrue from an investment early childhood education and despite the research describing 13-fold returns, a public investment in young children and young families happens rarely, and when it does, it mandates tight controls.

In the dominant discourse of policy for young children, educators and families must comply rather than generate.

  • The common language suggests teachers and care-givers are deficient.
  • The education offered to them is usually called “training” as if pedagogy consisted of standard procedures that need proper implementation.
  • Families are poor, broken, helpless, and ignorant.
  • Corporate foundations are beneficent in offering models and demonstrations, at best, that magically need to be “scaled up.”
  • News and special features pluck our heartstrings with stories of foundation beneficence and volunteerism, “a thousand points of light.”
  • Meanwhile, the disaster for most children living in exploited and underemployed families goes on.

We Have the Responsibility

We must act together, this year, out of our deep moral convictions, with deep love, but also with deep truth. We must reconsider the dearth of resources and lack of attention to the young children in poor and low-wealth circumstances

Why are educators and care-givers (who know the children and dedicate themselves to them) not given a decent return for doing what they care about, know about, and brings benefits for everyone? Most people who work in settings for young children live in poverty and denied their right to create, decide, and act by a dark force Scrooge dangling morsels in coercion.

We Expect Lasting Results

I can imagine we all agreed we want all children to demonstrate these Sixteen Capabilities, and we took action to evolve spaces and opportunities for each to emerge. We could then watch the children we love grow in the unpredictable way they do. Of course, days are not smooth; days are filled with tears and disappointment as well as joy. School is a place for mistakes to happen and get worked through. Eventually, after years of practice, those children move into common school with all Sixteen Capabilities well underway. What then would life be like?

Can you imagine being a Kindergarten educator and having all of your September children enter with these Sixteen Capabilities? You would have a dream class. There would be no behavior problems. These children would be responsive to adult leadership, have a disposition to care for each other, and expect to learn. You could get right to work, listening to the children’s interests and finding out what aspect of the world they wanted to explore. If the interest were spiders, rocks or a broken bone, children would be eager to examine, write about, read about, draw, create poetry, music, scientific displays, research, count, and mathematically represent.

The community of the classroom would expect to share a love of learning and being together and far exceed the academic standards and curriculum prescriptions anyone could imagine.

The experience of full participation in a culture of a learning community is true “readiness” for school, because all the children view themselves as capable and competent and members of a community.

The Sixteen Capabilities are durable. Next year the 1st grade teacher would inherit those same children, eager and happy to be at school. It is up to everyone who considers himself or herself a contributor to the early experience of children to examine and demand what we really want. If we have broad, international agreement, we can be ready for the transformation ahead.

We Can Start Right Now

I invite you to send friends the link to this page, take a copy with you to meetings, and maybe even post a copy on the wall. If the Sixteen Capabilities were a common understanding, educators could reflect upon the qualities of life they lived each day as they cared for each child and the child’s family over time. Everyone could look at children around the world as ours, with common intentions energizing and evolving over time. It’s simply natural and human to see our children though our love, together.

All children can achieve these Sixteen Capabilities. If they do, they can transform our society, reduce poverty, and make our towns, forests, cities, homes and climate better for life.

16capabilities pdf

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