Friday, November 18, 2011

We Don't Need To Defend That

































At the bottom of yesterday's post, I linked to an essay by Alfie Kohn that appeared recently in the Washington Post. For those of you who don't know, Kohn is the author of a dozen books on education and human behavior and is a leading light in the movement to return education to its progressive roots.


In this piece, he puts a finger on something vitally important about play: it is intrinsically valuable and we make a deal with the devil when we argue that "teaching music to children improves their proficiency at math, or that a given progressive innovation raises test scores." 


It seems to me that our culture has gotten way off track when so many of us simply don't understand this. It still staggers me that childhood play must be defended. Yet as Kohn points out, even those of us who have adopted the idea of "play" as central to education are still having a hard time turning the children loose in an open-ended, pointless way, but are rather labeling activities as play that are really "teacher-directed and involve little or no free play, imagination, or creativity." 


This is what the cult of "academics" has done to us. It has taken us away from our essential selves. It has made us feel guilty and pressured. Academics is the language of commerce, of command, and of obedience. It robs us of joy, or at least confines it into boxes labeled "holidays" or "weekends." 


This is about so much more than mere education. Play is bigger than that. I would argue that this is why we are here on the planet: to play, to engage freely with creation, to explore it according to our passions, to immerse ourselves creatively and open-endedly with the things and people we find around us, every day, all the time. This is what I learn from children. This is what I find when I look inward. This is what I see when I look at the rest of nature. 


Play is how our souls express themselves. Play is love. And we don't need to defend that.


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12 comments:

Liz Bragdon said...

this is what i have been trying to articulate for myself and my work in my head for weeks. it's been there, on the tip of my tongue and haunting the edges of my work ... thank you for speaking this!

Tracy said...

Right on! I cannot think of a better way to say it. Thanks, Teacher Tom.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I sometimes feel as if I'm not doing enough for my kids when I'm "just" letting them play. I know better, but still...

Vegetable Gardener, Cook, Homesteader, Miser, Homeschool mama said...

Thanks for the reminders. We should all remember too that we should be instilling a love of life in our children--and that when we direct the too much we are taking them away from the things they enjoy.

Scott said...

Amen, Teacher Tom!

Anonymous said...

yes ...yes....yes!!! but what do you say to a teacher that said to me today "i think the children have played enough"???

Erin said...

This is why I want to home school. I don't, because I'm a teacher myself (public system, Ontario) and I need to earn a living. I'm trying to convince my husband to do it. Well spoken, as usual.

Mrs. Miner said...

It is so sad that it has come to this. In the end, the whole supposed purpose of this is going to result in the exact opposite of what "they" are planning. Oh, wait, possibly they will be book smart, but lack of social, emotional and basic human interaction skills is going to override that.
Krissy
Mrs.Miner’s Monkey Business

Catherine Koons Hubbard said...

If you ever find yourself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you'd be welcomed with open arms at our nature-based preschool on the bluffs of Lake Michigan. We're play based as well, and I think you'd be happy to see a philosophy in place that celebrates everything you just posted. Thank you for such a wonderful blog.

Amanda said...

Well said! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! Curriculum may change, but children do not. I've been saying this for years. Thanks for articulating it so very well!

Jessica said...

I adore Alfie Kohn. His words are of such help to me as I travel through the low country of South Carolina training teachers and directors. He nailed it again as I hear teachers defending their curriculum. They are teaching from a posture of fear rather than a posture of confidence that play is what's good for children. Let us be responsive and let us articulate this over and over again as we make a Ripple for children.

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