Monday, July 11, 2016

"That Would Be Like Banning Their Freedom To Think"

A person's freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.  ~John Holt

The other night I was explaining what I do to an old friend who had no idea what I do. It boggled her mind. I explained how when children play they are asking and answering their own questions about the world. She asked, almost in disbelief, "But, then what does a teacher do?"

I wanted to reply, "Get out of the way," but in the interest of not sounding flippant I instead answered, "Mostly, we just provide a relatively safe environment in which children can come together to explore their world through their play with the things and people they find there."

"How is that different than what parents do?"

"There shouldn't be a difference, really. In general, adults need to understand that when children play they are, invariably, preparing themselves for their future." I gave her a couple of examples, which she pondered until I pushed one of her buttons when I said, "For instance, almost all little girls at some time or another dress up as princesses. They are playing with the obviously important concept of feminine beauty."

"What do you mean important? Beauty isn't important!"

I pointed out that she, a retired scientific researcher, was wearing flattering clothing, a particular hairstyle, cosmetics, jewelry. "You may not agree with traditional ideas of beauty, but every woman knows that she can't avoid dealing with societal standards of feminine beauty: you might chose to accept it or reject it or redefine it, but clearly it is important in our world. Children know this even if we try to deny it."

"But shouldn't we be teaching them that it's wrong? Isn't it the teacher's job to teach them that being beautiful doesn't matter?"

"I suppose I can offer them my opinion, but if I attempt to assert that notions of feminine beauty aren't important, the kids will know I'm wrong: the evidence is all around us. It's unavoidable. Every time we turn around we see a narrow concept of feminine beauty being celebrated. It's clearly important to our society. And at least part of why all those girls need to play princess is to explore what it means from the inside so that they can make their own decisions as they get older."

She hated that answer. "But it's not important at all. Women shouldn't be judged for their beauty. We need to teach that to little girls."

"I sure hope little girls learn that, but it won't happen because I lecture them. I expect they're most likely to learn it the way you did -- by experiencing it, experimenting with it, thinking about it, then making their own decisions. If I tried to somehow ban princess play, I would have a rebellion on my hands."

"Oh, I wouldn't want you to do that. Playing princess is fun. You can't ban princess play . . . That would be like banning their freedom to think."

And that's how we left the conversation because it was a school night and time for us to go home.

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1 comment:

Kristen Mott said...

This is fantastic. I absolutely agree that the best thing for adults to do is get out of the way. I love Magda Gerber's quote "Be careful of what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning." I feel like you are living that. I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts on early childhood learning with this blog!

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