Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Thousand Steps

The opposite of play isn't work, it's rote.  ~Edward Hollowell

This might sound like an odd thing for a teacher to write, but I sometimes get the idea that knowing stuff is the enemy of education. There is little gratification in it for me when I've envisioned how children will do something, then they proceed to do it in just the way I've imagined. Certainly I could claim it as some evidence of experience on my side, but it also makes me worry that it's also evidence of rote on the children's side. 

I'll leave it to future teachers to worry about teaching the kids to follow instructions if that's what they feel they need them to do. Much better things are happening in our school, it seems, when instructions are minimal and I'm constantly proven wrong in my expectations. Fortunately, when working with young children in a play-based environment, that's more the norm than the exception. 

Our classroom, every day, should be one big experiment, a place where things are not known by either the kids or the teachers, a place where we fiddle and argue and poke and prod our way toward knowledge, and where everything we come to understand is only a part of all the other things we're striving to know.  It should be a place with lots of room for failure, frustration, and conflict. It should be a place with lots of room for wonder, epiphany, and friendship.

When a reporter asked Thomas Edison how it felt to have failed over a thousand times in his quest to invent the lightbulb, he famously answered, "I didn't fail a thousand times. The lightbulb was an invention with a thousand steps." Except we're not even trying to invent anything here, but simply discover, in the spirit of pure science, conducted for the purpose of getting closer to our own truth and nothing more.

Or maybe we are trying to invent something, after all, and if we are, it's not the sort of thing that can be put into words, but rather felt or intuited. I suppose it has something to do with inventing ourselves both as individuals and as a community. It's something that can only be invented by conducting thousands and thousands of experiments; by taking thousands and thousands of steps.

And even though billions of humans have come before us, if we are playing together, we are discovering and inventing a thing that has never been discovered or invented before: us.

Anyone who tells you they have a system or method or sure-fire technique for educating children isn't talking about education at all. They're talking about standardization and efficiency. They're talking about assembly lines and cookie cutters. Anyone who doesn't start with the idea that it's all an experiment isn't talking about education at all. They're talking about rote.

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