Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Together We're a Genius


I've noted that some of the usual kids' summer camps are tentatively underway here in Seattle. There is at least one group meeting down at the Center of Wooden Boats on South Lake Union, where be-masked and distanced middle school aged kids are engaged in basic wood working under the supervision of be-masked and distanced educators. Yesterday, our dog Stella followed a particularly enticing trail passed the Space Needle to the campus side of Pacific Science Center where I spied be-masked elementary school aged children doing hands-on engineering through the windows, each spaced into their own designated work stations. 


As a person who has spent decades around groups of children engaged in projects together, the scenes had an unnatural, almost surrealistic feel. It was like the real world, but with a dark twist to remind us that all is not well. A part of it was the masks, of course, but honestly, I've stopped seeing them. It was more the distancing that made those classroom vignettes feel like the opening scenes of a science fiction movie set in a near and ominous future. 


This isn't what naturally happens with children in groups. Normally, one would expect huddles of children, heads together, hands intertwined, thoughts and ideas mixing together. Sure, there are always some who prefer, at least occasionally, to work solo, but most of the time, the self-education instinct, that is, the instinct to play, causes children to cluster together around their projects. It occurred to me that adults who imagine school as a place of teachers lecturing, desks in rows, and eyes on your own work, wouldn't see anything amiss with these summer camp scenes. Indeed, this is how schooling is often done to children, isolated and pitted competitively against classmates. But as an adult who has spent his life in the world of self-directed education, it was like expecting someone to play tennis with both arms tied behind their backs.


I'm thinking of a dead bird we found on a local playground one day and how the children crowded around, jostling one another to examine it, sharing their thoughts and feelings in reverent voices, poking it with a stick, bouncing their observations off of one another, building a consensus around how it died, why it died, and what death means.

I'm thinking of board games and puzzles around which children cluster, bickering, joking, negotiating, and agreeing.

I'm thinking of the small dark space under the loft in our classroom where children squeeze in together, thrilling in the hot, cramped, coziness of den life.


Young children are far better connected to the interconnectedness of humans than are adults. They know, intuitively, that their individual brain is not their individual brain, but rather part of a larger, all-knowing, collective brain. They've known it since the moment they came into the world, literally connected to their mothers, emerging, in fact, from within their mothers. At first, that's enough, but soon, through proximity, they plug into the rest of their families, their extended families, their communities, connecting in an ever-widening circle, their own brains supercharged. And this is how they would continue to self-educate if we didn't insist upon teachers lecturing, desks in rows, and eyes on your own work.


I'm thinking of children flocking together again, pressing and jostling and connecting because it's only together that we're a genius.

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I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the foreseeable future due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below. 

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