Culture Making Part V: Are Children Poor In Cultural Power?


In the last post of the culture making series, I quoted a larger section of Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch.

In it we discovered a new definition of what it means to be poor:

“To be poor is to be unable to make something of the world.”

This perspective changes who we see as poor and what we can do about it.

Who is poor in cultural power?

Immediately children and the elderly come to mind.

While listening to my father talk about how the culture in his home town had changed I suddenly realized that maybe one reason why growing older can be tough is that it is like moving to a new country without leaving home.

I imagine it’s a frustrating experience when the culture around you changes and you find yourself a stranger in a strange land with significantly less cultural power than you once had.

What about children? In many ways they get their way so much more these days than they used to.

Are children poor in cultural power?

If having cultural power is having the ability to make something of the world, then we should ask ourselves whether the power our kids have is productive, cultural power or more like the power of a tyrant.

Letting our kids pick the blue shoes or the red shoes is not giving our kids power of any significant worth. It’s more like a consolation prize for having to put shoes on. Of course there is a time and place for giving our kids this kind of choice.

My question is whether children have the power to make meaningful decisions in their lives. Mostly their lives are governed by circumstances out of their control. Their lack of refined language ability alone puts them in the culturally poor category.

Productive or destructive Power?

Sometimes as a parent I feel powerless by my toddlers destructive power to thwart my will. But it’s not cultural power that’s limiting my ability to make something of my world when my toddler has a tantrum.

As the parent I still have far more resources to influence my world than my toddler does. (Though admittedly I’m often too tired and angry to make use of them – I’m working on it!)

If the ability to make something of our world is a fundamental need for humans, could the lack of productive cultural power be a reason our kids turn to destructive power displays?

If they can’t have meaningful choices and the power to make something of their world will they lash out and thwart the power of those they see has holding them back?

I feel a bit out of my depth, but whether or not the above is true, one thing is sure: I want to raise kids who are able to make something of the world.

Productive Cultural Power for Children

Most skills take practice, so it seems logical to assume that kids need to practice making something of their world while they are young and under the protection and guidance of loving parents.

So how do we give our kids true cultural power? How do we help them practice making something of their world?


This is Part V of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IVPart VIPart VII, and Part VIII here.

3 thoughts on “Culture Making Part V: Are Children Poor In Cultural Power?”

  1. Definitely not one of your easier questions! I think it starts with treating children like human beings, so that they begin to assume that adults will interact with them in a meaningful and mutually respectful way.

    From there, we can give our kids small tasks- errand running when they’re old enough, maybe fetching mail and taking out trash while they are younger. Certainly calling to make their own doctor’s appointments and other administrative tasks by the young teen years.

    Possibly including children in things like budget discussions, tax forms, and other “adult” work could be a good idea. Teaching them to consult a calendar… using the train website to plan a trip…

    I try to constantly remind myself that 7 year olds used to be apprenticed in their father’s trade, that 11 year old girls were helping raise children and run households…, 15 year old girls were school teachers, not necessarily because I want to go back to these practices, but to remind myself not to underestimate what children can do.

    1. You make some great points here about giving kids real responsibility and teaching them how the world works. We’ll talk more later about this kind of cultivation of our culture, which turns out to be as important as creatation – I’m glad you brought it up!

  2. p.s. The ability to use public transportation is really a big one for me. Eliot is getting very good at reading signs, etc, but I haven’t started him planing trips yet. Probably should!

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