Thursday, May 26, 2016

Revolution



When I write about the central truth so succinctly encapsulated by author and researcher Peter Gray -- "Children don't like school because they love freedom" -- such as my post from Tuesday entitled I'm Not Sure That's Teaching, much of the feedback is some version of this comment from Facebook:

"My child is going through this industrial school experience. He realizes he is "not a computer." That he can't process and recall information. He tells me that every day. And he thinks he can't learn or isn't that smart . . . We tried home schooling in NY, but the regs are so Third Reich. I panicked. It was too much pressure. I put him back in elementary school after only one year. I would love some guidance, so I can carry the load more efficiently. I tried."

And honestly, many of the folks who respond in this vein haven't even tried because it all seems, as one reader put it, "daunting." I mean, as Carol Black points out, we are seven generations into the industrial-style model of public education, most of us can't even get our minds around the change that needs to happen and if we finally do, it's only natural that we might panic. That's because what needs to happen is nothing short of a revolution and revolutions are terrifying.

We need a revolution in how we perceive children. They are not incomplete adults or empty vessels or anything less than full-fledged human beings with rights, including the right to be respected, heard, and responded to as fellow human beings and not inferior ones to be bossed around.


We need a revolution in how we view learning. It's not the job of adults to decide what and when children learn. That is the children's job. Our responsibility as adults is to role model our values in day to day life, strive to be the person we want our kids to grow up to be, take a genuine interest in what our children are excited about, and know that childhood exists, first and foremost, for play.

We need a revolution in how we view "stuff." I recently returned from China. In the US, we tend to think of "communist" China, but that somehow hasn't been an impediment to their decision-makers deciding that the nation should move toward a "consumer economy" more like those found in western societies. The thing is, the Chinese people apparently haven't been particularly accommodating. They don't seem overly interested in more stuff, they've learned to love what they already have, and it is putting the skids on their central plan. Yes, I'm sure part of that is generations of official education emphasizing that consumerism is an evil of the west, but it is noteworthy nevertheless. Many of the barriers to improving our educational system have to do with our consumption of stuff, the cars and houses and electronics and space we think we need. It makes us need two incomes and long work days. None of it is necessary, and probably detrimental, to a satisfying life.

We need a revolution against authoritarianism. Yes, I'm talking about politics, but also about day to day life. We must rise up against the entire concept of obedience. As Utah Phillips sang, "I will not obey." And then he sang, "But I'm always ready to agree." That is, at its heart, is what this revolution is about.


All of it is scary. Our revolution requires upending at least four sacred cows. All of it is daunting. This revolution requires generations of work. I used to be uncomfortable using the word revolution, but I've come to realize that human history is one of continual revolution, we're all a part of every one of them by either our actions or inactions. Revolution is the engine of progress and we are it's fuel. We either choose our revolution or it chooses us.

Of course, I hear you: all of this is well and good for some ivory tower blogger, but what about my kid, right now? This is where idealism meets reality. Public schools are looking increasingly like test score coal mines, private education is too much of a financial stretch for most of us, we love our kids with every ounce of our beings, and we want what's best for them. Something's got to give. Given reality, given our fears, given how daunting it is, what do we do? At bottom it's a question each of us can only answer for ourselves, but I think we make a mistake when we don't err on the side of revolution because in that direction lies the better future we want for those we love.

We must be firm, I think, in our defiance of standardization in our schools and specifically I'm talking about opting our children out of high stakes testing and home work. Be assured, high stakes testing and home work are not evidence-based aides to learning: indeed the evidence points to testing and homework mostly succeeding in making our children hate school even more. Your child is objectively more likely to grow into an avid, life-long learner if he is not subjected to high stakes testing and homework. The more of us who stand up for this, the more revolutionary it will be.


The second thing you can do for your child right now is talk to your friends and family. Talk to them about their own childhoods, ask them about their memories, revel in their stories about playing outdoors, unsupervised, with their friends and few toys. Share your own stories along with your concerns about today's children missing out on that. Revolutions must speak to the souls of every day people and I've found that there is no more direct way to get there than through connecting folks with their own childhoods.

Thirdly, we can all work on how we speak with the children in our lives, striving to avoid the directives of obedience, those commands like, "Come here" or "Sit down" or "Eat this" or "Stop it!" Better is to practice replacing those commands with informative statements, like "It's time to go" or "The people behind you can't see if you stand up" or "I don't want you to do that." Yes, it takes more words, but it is trading out commands for the space of simple truth in which children can practice thinking for themselves. A revolution will not be told what to do.

And finally, perhaps most difficult, and definitely most important is coming to appreciate the beauty of living with less. This would be the greatest revolution of all. The time it would give us as parents would set our children free.

The only thing we can do is to try. Just try. I give all my respect to each one of you who does. And ultimately this is the only way to guarantee that you will be doing the best you can to make a better future for your child. A revolution will never be a result of what you do, but it will always be a result of what we do. Everything is daunting if you feel you're going it on your own. If we all try at the same time, we cannot be stopped.

Our children love freedom and so do we. 



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4 comments:

Dienne said...

"We need a revolution in how we perceive children. They are not incomplete adults or empty vessels or anything less than full-fledged human beings with rights, including the right to be respected, heard, and responded to as fellow human beings and not inferior ones to be bossed around."

Oh, agreed. But first we'd actually have to perceive the majority of people that way. Our culture (and maybe the world?) have been so conditioned by "meritocracy" that many of actually believe that the only people who deserve respect, being heard and responded to as fellow human beings and not inferior ones to be bossed around are those with advanced degrees and/or those making lots of money, thereby proving their superiority to the rest of us. That's a lot of what's fueling Bernie's revolution - the Democratic party has become the party of professionals and elites. The rest of us are sick of getting stepped on on someone else's way to the top. (Incidentally, if you haven't yet, read Thomas Frank's LISTEN LIBERAL for a fuller explanation of the Democrats (the alleged "Party of the People") pushing aside and almost literally spitting on the people.)

Nancy Schimmel said...

Sacred-cow-tipping! What a beautiful image.

Maya Lila said...

I love this so much. Thank you!

kdpicou said...

Just keep coaching us through!

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