Sunday, January 18, 2009

Children's Spirit vs. Platitudes & Myths

Right now it is vital for us to remember the Spirit of the Child. Embrace the special qualities of wonder, curiosity, creativity, imagination, dreaming, love, joy and happiness. begin to let go of the myth that was instilled in you to work hard and begin to play as you once did. If you do not remember how, find a child and ask them to teach you.

The quote is from a blog/zine I just read. The complete post that precedes this section is a harsh but, to my view, true indictment of the myths and platitudes we scatter so easily to our children, our young and expect all the long-suffering wage-earners to accept: work hard and you will be rewarded. Imagine if I chose to list the tired phrases often used by leaders (especially of the party that just lost the presidency & congress). The reader would not be rewarded from the hard work of reading the cliches. I thought the post Hard Work Leads to Poverty had been written by some crusty old community organizer from the 60s. See below and judge whether my prejudice was correct:

Female 46 years old Live Oak, FL I am a kid who refuses to grow up. I inspire people to have fun and stop the endless cycle of working yourself to death. I am a mother of two daughters and my best playmates. I am a speaker, playshop leader and a creative muse.

I don't publicly rant (much) about the general abuse and disregard of our blue-collar workers, our working-stiffs who do the dirty, difficult, under-paid and maligned grunge work. But I can't help but being hooked by the tone: rage, frustration, righteous indignation and ultimately hopelessness and despair. I want to keep myself honest about how complex and difficult the life is for the families of the children I'm most concerned about.
In defense of social civility & my excesses, I still have trouble distinguishing which battles to pick, when to hold my tongue and especially discerning between telling a truth clearly, politely but assertively in contrast with an-out-of-control tantrum with tonsils extending beyond the lips.
It's especially difficult when I ignore the ridiculousness of social organizations we form, supposedly to deal with the needs of children in our schools: I blurt out humor-from-hell dipped in absurdist/60s hippy confrontation of hipocrisy in some middle-class norm-ruts. I've been reported to officers of a national organization (on whose board I sit) for actions unbecoming to a board member. Ok, I won't tell a presenter with a sleepy audience if there is no response to attempts to facilitate conversation and keep a workshop alive, to 'take his clothes off'. Yes, it's an inappropriate cheap-shot. A national media reporter if present would have quoted me and the organization would have a public and general membership image problem.

Forget that we do have unconscionable classrooms and public schools, children not being supported to learn and love learning, families vilified, students stigmatized and our urban public schools in danger of being shut down by the private sector slathering at the mouth to get those public education dollars. It's hard to sit politely listening to themes far from the urgent problems. The organization was lucky I didn't really go berserk, take my civilized mask off and release not just inappropriate humor, but scream about the Titanic furniture we are rearranging about five minutes before it's date with big ice-block.

I learned in the 60s & 70s that just getting my social-injustice-anger jollies off is counterproductive, distracts from the message and hides the problem. I agreed to be an upstanding board member...but jiminy-crickets, the children in our public schools, our children, not 'those children', our students, our treasure and our future are in danger. We need to put a fire under public opinion, public will, public support for our public schools.

Many, many entrepreneurial and creative educators have quick answers for what is wrong. But the underlying message is "Public Schools are Hopeless" That righteous indignation is not mine nor on my side. I want the schools to be excellent and equitable, but I don't want to close the doors, any more than I want to erase the neighborhoods where families live.

Return to the brilliant and passionate writer of Hard Work Leads to Poverty, & see she ends up exactly where I do: on the side of hope, possibilities and re-connecting to the vision of the schools (and world) we want to create. It's in the quote opening this note & the opening Wordle created from positive words.

Keep the faith in the children and their families. If we don't, who will? If not now, when?


PapaBear said...

I struggle to figure out ways to keep that sense of wonder going, while keeping in mind that the school that she attends now is not what it was. My daughter gets into trouble each week, every single damn week, because she playfully smacks a classmate, or launches a rubberband, or otherwise reacts to the normal environment exactly the way I did when I was a child.

I was not the monster that they try to make out my daughter to be, but there is no longer a place where our kids can be children. More than ever, we need to have the community provide a nurturing nest where kids can explore and learn who they are and what their place is in the world.

Anonymous said...

One secret is to draw no lines where learning happens. Although my child never "playfully smacked" someone, he didn't fit in the box in conventional education after elementary school. As a parent, becoming his strongest advocate sometimes meant conferencing with his school or teacher (including him in the conversation always), sometimes backing off and letting him handle and issue and figure out a solution.

One recommendation I would make is to consider that, even if playfully smacking is a part of your family's "OK list", sometimes you have to find a balance between teaching children to be playful and free, and helping them see when such behavior is more counterproductive than to curtail a bit and avoid silly confrontations. Teach her to pick her battles. That's a real challenge.

My son learned to distinguish when it was OK to be absolutely frank and when he needed to stay quiet in order to reach the overall goals he set for himself. I believe that to be a very valuable talent in today's world.

Also, look for an advocate inside or outside the school. I found a few teachers and a great resource in Dr. Linda Silverman, author of "Upside Down Brilliance", a book about visual-spacial learners.

baby one kenobi said...

As a father and educator, I do think it is important to find a 'fit' for your child. I advocate strongly for districts of choice.

In terms of being able to identify this 'good fit', I suggest looking at a school's curriculum as well as teacher quality.

Curriculum integration, or thematically-based unit integration, artfully weaves together science and social studies with the 3 R's.

Whether public, private, public charter, or alternative - well integrated curriculum has the ability to capture the minds and hearts of young learners, in or outside of the box.

Helena Harper said...

Having been a teacher for 20 years, I agree that, if education is to be successful, then we have to remember the spirit of the child, but unfortunately the politicians seem to have forgotten all about this. If we are to retain the sense of playfulness and wonder and creativity that children have, we have to change our reliance on restrictive, narrow-minded syllabuses that emphasise acquisition of facts rather than development of independent thought and we have to get rid of the overriding 'importance' of exams and tests, which tell our children that being better than others is what success is all about, rather than concentrating on working with others to achieve a common goal. Then, perhaps, we

'could create another
indisputable reality
where education delights
both teacher and taught
and restrictions and syllabuses
are but a long, distant memory.'
(from my book 'It's a Teacher's Life...!')

That would be my dream.

Helena Harper