The Ten Principles: What Do Kids Know?

Rebecca Gasca recently spent an evening with some kids who have not been to Burning Man, discovering how the Ten Principles might impact their lives:

Are you still looking for the fountain of youth? After an evening talking with The Squaw Valley Kids’ Institute about Burning Man and the Ten Principles, I am pretty sure that, at least for me, this proverbial oasis is actually a fire hydrant of intuition surging somewhere between all the pages of the “What Where When” guide and my own cesspool of fears.

Trampoline fun! Photo by Garry Geer, 2011
Trampoline fun! Photo by Garry Geer, 2011

Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from these undoubtedly bright kids. With a discussion topic as complex as “Creativity and Statistics vs. the Depths of Expression and Experience at Burning Man: THERE IS NOTHING AS POWERFUL AS AN IDEA!” where could I even begin? So I did what my mom did when I was a child—I brought out my box of costumes so that we could begin on an even playing field. While dressed in a business suit that hid my Burning Man regalia underneath, I watched them lasso the unknown, adorning themselves in whatever they fancied from my selection of playa treasures.

Once creatively situated in leather chaps, faux fur vests, wigs, goggles, sarongs, bandanas, and sufficiently playafied boots, they sat back to discuss their own creative experiences and relate them to the Ten Principles at Burning Man. Though none of them had actually attended a single Burn, it was enlightening how easily all of them, ranging from age 8 to 14, discussed each of these core values as ordinances that Black Rock City has grown up with. Some imagined that a world without logos would be colorful and perhaps quite confusing, admitting not knowing how to assign tangible or relatable value to an object, interaction, or experience. (Yes, that is Decommodification at its finest!)

Collectively, they grasped how important self-reliance would be in the Black Rock Desert. These kids understood immediately that surviving on the playa and in life means that we must work together; each individual would have to show initiative. They also reminded themselves that self-reliance can also mean asking questions. Perhaps most importantly, they pointed out that you are less likely to thrive if you don’t participate. Together we conceptualized a Burning Man lesson plan so that kids could receive school credit for attending the event, but these students struggled with making dramatic and surreal personal experiences “count” by fitting them into boxes of educational requirements. Why was it so difficult? It struck me that our educational system is hammering down on creativity and spontaneity with its one-ply exams and two-toned templates of pass or fail.

Indeed, “We don’t grow into education, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it,” Sir Ken Robinson, who was to speak at the Squaw Valley Institute shortly after that evening, has profoundly noted. With a bit more conversation and context, these creativity enthusiasts churned out ideas for a Kidsville curriculum: writing assignments that might muse over what participant’s lives are actually like in the default world; inventing a prayer or mantra to share at the temple or as a gift; and science experiments involving fire, weather, or water usage at Black Rock City. One participant opined that kids should bring their schoolwork to burn it with the Man.

While I went that night prepared, in a state of default, to “teach” these kids about Burning Man, I learned instead that not only did they already have the spirit of Burning Man pulsing through them, but in some ways, they understood how to apply the principles better than I did. It makes too much sense that this type of primal wisdom comes naturally to us in our youth, but too little sense that it must be re-learned with intention and purpose as we age.

By the end of the evening, I was received with smiles by my costumed comrades as I shed my business attire and revealed to them the crazy legging, funky dress-wearing Burner that I really am.  As I left, I couldn’t help but think that it is in Nevada’s biggest little desert where we can become reacquainted with the fountain of youthful wisdom in all of us. I also realized that if I ever have the hope of raising a child who can intuitively rock hop between the “choose your own adventure” pages of life, regardless of their fears, I’ve got to make damn sure that they don’t have to be re-wired with the Ten Principles as an adult. What a gift that night was.

Rebecca Gasca went native on the playa when, as the lobbyist for the ACLU of Nevada, she taught Burners how to lovingly interact with law enforcement at Burning Man while refusing consent to searches. She has since founded her own community and government relations firm, Pistil and Stigma, where she practices her favorite of life’s twenty seven thousand principles, Civic Engagement, on a daily basis. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Friends of Black Rock High Rock although they, nor Burning Man, nor anyone else for that matter, endorse these or any other Hansel and Gretel-related thoughts about children that she may have.

2 thoughts on “The Ten Principles: What Do Kids Know?

  • A common expression is “adults go to Black Rock City to become children again” and this just proves it. Kids “get it” intil it gets pounded out of them.

    Report comment

  • Yes! Exactly. My kids are regular attendees at regional burns and have been to Burning Man too. They get it. And this is precisely why Burning Man must always stay open to kids and families.

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply