Friday, January 22, 2021

This is the Story of Our Lives


When I was a boy, my parents tell me, I was obsessed with the family lawn mower, becoming excited whenever dad rolled up his shirtsleeves to tackle the grass. One day, from the backseat of the car, we heard the put-put-put of an unmuffled VW Beetle and I, according to family legend, began to shout excitedly, "Mower! Mower!" This is the story of how our family came to refer to this distinctive type of car as Mowers, a term that still comes up when it's "just us."

It was years before I came to understand that the rest of world called them Beetles or Bugs and that Mower meant nothing to anyone. Before coming to that understanding, however, there were arguments with playmates over who was right. I eventually even won over a few of the kids on my cul-de-sac, but ultimately I was forced to give it up as the evidence of the wider world began to pile up against what I'd learned when the world was just my family.

It's an experience we all have as we begin to move outwards from the home of our birth. It's one of the primal stories of humanity: we are home, we leave home and have adventures, then we return home. We find it in our mythologies, legends, and fairy tales. It is the plot line of many of our children's favorites, from Where the Wild Things Are to Alice in Wonderland to the Dora the Explorer. It's an evergreen theme because it is an evergreen experience.

Children grow up and discover that the world is not as it seemed from within the four walls of their homes. Humankind as a whole does the same. ~Carlo Rovelli

Going out, learning something new, then coming back. The experience changes us because learning changes us, and we find that what we come back to, the world within our four walls, is changed as well. I distinctly recall returning home after being teased by an older boy to scold my mother about how wrong she was to use the term Mower. In fact, that was the moment she told me the family story, revealing to me a truth about my own family, what I'd considered the known universe, about which I'd been totally ignorant. The fact that I'm still reflecting on this more than half a century later, is evidence that this seemingly small thing was a profound, or at least jarring, discovery.

I'm sure it was already ancient wisdom when Hereclitus wrote 2500 years ago that "The only constant in life is change." We live according to the arrow of time, even if scientists tell us that time is a mere figment of our collective imaginations. And time is another word for change. Indeed, we seem to need change, which is why we stray from our four walls in the first place. There must be more, we tell ourselves, and there is. But after a time the wild rumpus becomes too much and we seek to return home, only to find that it isn't as we left it, both because our experiences have changed us and because even home must follow the arrow of time. It's the story of our days, our month, our years, and our lives. 

It's the curse and blessing of our species to forever seek to move from not knowing to knowing. We become restless so we step out. Our adventures are stimulating, but eventually we are frightened or discombobulated or overwhelmed or tired and return home, but we can never go back to not knowing, even as we sometimes try to forget. Eventually, however, the new knowledge becomes one with the known universe and we once again set out on our adventures. This is the story of our lives.

******

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

What If Children Aren't Idiots Who Must Be Taught to Think


Much of what passes for education, not just in the US, but around the world, starts with the premise that children aren't all that bright, that they are essentially lazy, and that they can't be trusted to know what's best for themselves. Of course, few of us would admit to thinking such thoughts about preschoolers, but there are plenty of adults who will authoritatively assert these criticisms about older children, like teenagers.


Having worked with young children for most of my adult life, I can assure you that every one of them is a genius (a conclusion that is supported by NASA), they are far less inclined toward laziness (if it even exits) than most adults I know, and concerning matters beyond safety, schedules, and courtesy, who am I to tell a child that I know better? The teenagers I've known don't tick any of those stereotyped boxes either, but even if I stipulate that the haters are correct, that many, if not most, teens are ignorant, lazy, and self-destructive, then my question is: How did they get that way? I mean, honestly, how did they un-learn their genius, their motivation, and their ability to make good decisions for themselves?


Is it just in their nature? Are children doomed by biology to become surly, indifferent, and slothful? I doubt that. It makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. No, to the degree that it's true, it's something we do to them, and from where I sit all signs point to it being a self-fulfilling prophesy.

"I'm beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think." ~Anne Sullivan

Our entire school system is based upon the premise that children are reluctant learners, that they must be compelled, coerced, tricked, and driven. Not only must we adults rein them up to the wagon for their own good, but we are then required to entice them toward a pre-determined destination with carrots, while always threatening from behind with a stick. Is it any wonder that after a few years of this, they lose their will? We give them "education" as a kind of meaningless drudge, as an authoritarian exercise that seems almost designed to break their free will, even as we insist we are attempting to instill the opposite. How can it end any other way when you've been robbed of your right to control what, how, and when you are to learn? We squander their genius by making them jump through our hoops.

"Learning is the human activity that least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity." ~Ivan Illich

Children either come to hate school because it has been rendered meaningless or, perhaps worse, they become creatures of the system:

The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don't know." ~ John Holt

Play-based education is self-directed learning. We start from the premise that children are geniuses, that they are naturally self-motivated learners, and that when left to pursue activities that they themselves find meaningful, they will come to discover what truly is best for themselves. This approach to education accords with what we know about the human instinct to learn: to become critical thinkers, to collaborate, and to create. Our traditional school system is not based upon evidence, but rather habit and the false premise that children are idiots.

"You are about to be told one more time that you are America's most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clear cut in the forest? Have you seen a polluted river? Don't ever let them call you a valuable natural resource!" ~Utah Phillips

There are those who nevertheless defend our current system, based on arguments that without "rigor" and compulsion children will never learn the value of "hard work." If they are to spend their days at their self-selected activities, how will they ever learn to put their nose to the grindstone? To do what they are told? To jump through society's hoops? These are the arguments of those who will forever attach education to the economy, as if we exist to serve it, rather than the other way around. It's a view of children as valuable natural resources, which means that we have a right to exploit them in the name of a greasy buck. "Hard work" is code for doing things we don't want to do and no free human, no matter how much they practice, gets good at that, except perhaps for people who have been broken, a fate I'd not wish on anyone. If you want to see real hard work, swing by a preschool playground where children are busy pursuing their own freely chosen meaningful activities: no one on earth works harder.


I have never met a child who is not curious and curiosity is the human urge to learn made manifest. Schooling seems to be designed to erase that curiosity and replace it with mere performance.

"This is really what the whole debate over compulsory schooling is about. Do we trust people's capacity to be curious or not?" ~Astra Taylor

 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Ideas for What to Say Instead of "Be Careful"


Awhile back, I riffed on what is popularly called "risky play," what author and consultant Arthur Battram argues we should call "challenging play," what I want to re-label "safety play," and what one reader pointed out used to just be called "play."


Whatever we call it, most people who read here agree that we need to give children more space to engage in their self-selected pursuits, even if they sometimes make us adults nervous. At the same time, it can be difficult it is to break the habit of constantly cautioning children with "Be careful!"

Adult warning to "be careful" are redundant at best and, at worst, become focal points for rebellion (which, in turn, can lead to truly hazardous behavior) or a sense that the world is full of unperceived dangers that only the all-knowing adult can see (which, in turn, can lead to the sort of unspecified anxiety we see so much of these days). Every time we say "be careful" we express, quite clearly, our lack of faith in our children's judgement, which too often becomes the foundation for self-doubt.

Sometimes people ask me about alternatives, such as saying, "Pay attention to your body." For me, "pay attention" has the same flaws as "be careful." They are both commands that give children only two choices -- obey or disobey. On top of that, they are both quite vague. Better, I think, are simple statements of fact that allow children to think for themselves; specific information that supports them in performing their own risk assessment. This reminds me of the "good job" or "well done" habit many of us adults have acquired, in that we know we ought not do it, but can't help ourselves. So, in the spirit in which I offered suggestions for things we can say instead of "good job",  here are some ideas for things to say instead of "be careful."


"That's a skinny branch. If it breaks you'll fall on the concrete."


"I'm going to move away from you guys. I don't want to get poked in the eye."


"That would be a long way to fall."


"When people are swinging high, they can't stop themselves and might hit you."


"That looks like it might fall down."


"Tools are very powerful. They can hurt people."


"I always check to make sure things are stable before I walk on them."


"Sometimes ladders tip over."


"You're all crowded together up there. It would be a long way to fall if someone got pushed."


"When you jump on people, it might hurt them."


"You are testing those planks before you walk on them."


"That's a steep hill. I wonder how you're going to steer that thing."

When we turn our commands into informational statements, we leave a space in which children can think for themselves, rather than simply react, and that, ultimately, is what will help children keep themselves safe throughout their lives.

******

"Be careful" is just one of the ways that well-intended adults, through the words we habitually choose, create a reality for young children in which they are discouraged from, and sometimes even "punished" for, thinking for themselves. In so many ways, both overt and subtle, adults unwittingly tend to shut down critical thinking, replacing it with a reality in which mere reaction and obedience is rewarded. 


If you are keen to dig deeper into this phenomenon and to learn how you as an educator or parent can transform your language in ways that empower real learning, then my new six-part e-course, The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think, might be a great way to start your New Year. This is the culmination of more than 20 years of research and practice. I've been speaking on this topic around the world for the past decade and know that it can be transformative both for adults and children. Special pricing ends soon. To learn more and to register, click right here. We need more critical thinkers in the world! Thank you.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Making Life Matter


The boy boasted that he knew "everything."

"That's pretty cool," I answered. "Everything?"

"Everything. Ask me any question."

"What is the meaning of life?"

Without missing a beat, he replied, "Ichiro."

Solid response. The second best answer to that question I've ever heard from a preschooler, second only to the five-year-old who laughed as she dismissed me, "That's silly. It doesn't mean anything."

I don't make a habit of asking young children about the meaning of life, but over the years, usually while goofing around, I've probably posed it a couple dozen times. Aside from these two responses, every other child has simply ignored me, not even shrugging and I don't blame them. It is, at bottom, an uninteresting question, despite its apparent popularity among philosophers and theologians.

While I'm certain there is someone out there who has experienced a child who has expressed an abiding interest, by and large children don't tend to concern themselves such philosophical pap as the meaning of life. They are generally too busy to naval gaze about any picture bigger than the one in which they are presently engaged. In other words, while we are searching for meaning, they are busy making life mean something.

From where I sit, the question, "How do I make my life matter?" is a much more productive question. Not only is there a knowable answer, but something about which we can actually do something. It's a truly compelling question in that the answer is unique to each of us. It's the question that should stand at the center of education, "How do I make my life matter," yet we use the power invested in us as adults to divert the flow of children's curiosity away from its natural course and into the aqueducts of standardized curriculum that we've constructed to guide and steer them. Is it any surprise that the "brightest" among them conclude that grades, test scores, and elite universities are what matters most? Is it any wonder that children who find our curricula irrelevant (another way of saying "meaningless") come to think the fault is in themselves. Even the most understanding adults tell these children, "You can do better" and fret about them when they a shrug, "But why?"

Parents famously want their children to be happy. Most teachers I know feel the same way, yet we all know that happiness is, at best, a temporary condition. I assert that what we really want is for our children to find a meaningful life and the only way to do that is to make it yourself. When preschoolers ignore my questions, it's not from rudeness, but rather because it is an irrelevant question. That hole they are digging in the sand? That's totally relevant. That game of make believe they're weaving with their friends? That's what matters. When we play, we are in the continual process of making our lives matter, right now, the only time there is. Play is how we learn to construct a life of purpose. It's when we play that we make life matter. If life means anything, it's that.

******

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Chaos or Community?




And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. ~MLK

What I'm saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated. ~MLK

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. ~MLK


On this Martin Luther King Day many of us will listen to snippets, perhaps all, of his great "I Have A Dream" speech, and we should, but civil rights was not the only cause this great American championed, and it is not the only reason we celebrate his life today. He was also a great advocate for ending the war in Vietnam and on August 16, 1967 he gave what many consider his finest speech on poverty in America at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

Usually entitled "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?" this is long, powerful, and to this day controversial speech that reminds us that almost nothing has changed when it comes to poverty. Millions of our citizens of all races remain poor, but people of color bear the greatest burden. One in five black children lives in poverty. And while the powerful in our nation are engaged in a misguided, punitive approach to reforming our educational system, they are turning a blind eye to the core issue with education in America: poverty. Let this speech be a reminder that whatever we do in the classroom, until we address the "triple evils" of racism, poverty, and war, we will, as a nation, ultimately fail.

This is a magnificent, thoughtful and inspiring speech, one that taken in its entirety is guaranteed to make you think, make you sad, and may even make you angry. MLK calls here, for instance, for a "guaranteed national income." I know that's a non-starter for many people, but so was civil rights, so were at one time most of the great things humans have ever done. One reason we celebrate this man today is that so much of what he stood for has proven to be prophetic. If nothing else, we must think about what he has to teach us.

I urge you to find an hour today to listen and think, and even to dream, because when it comes right down to it, nothing will change until we have a dream.



******

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Friday, January 15, 2021

The Magnificence of Humans


As I rounded the corner, I saw her at the end of the block, a woman on roller blades. She spun like a ballet dancer, then started heading my way, her arms swinging to build momentum. With a snap she turned her back toward me, then raised her right leg into an arabesque, toes pointed sharply, one arm over her head, which was, like her raised leg, parallel to the ground.

The space between us was closing rapidly. I wondered if she was going to barrel into me, but somehow, I knew she wouldn't. She was too much in control of herself for that. Dropping into a sitting position, one leg outstretched, her back still toward me, she seemed, impossibly, to accelerate. She was approaching a terrain of sidewalk gratings that would certainly cause her to fall if she wasn't alert. Did she know they were there? Of course, she did, standing and spinning around all in one motion, her momentum unaffected, she magically tip toed through the hazard, passing by me in a surge of backdraft as she now accelerated.

Stunned into stillness, I turned to watch her pass, thrilling at her speed and grace. Suddenly, she leapt, her head nearly touching an awning extended from the side of the building. Upon landing she segued smoothly (how did it even happen?) into a spin, her back arched, face toward the sky, an expression that spoke of exuberance, strength, confidence, and power.

Then she was gone, around the next corner, a superhero on her way to save the day.

I felt my heart in my chest. It took a moment to uproot myself from the spot where I stood, gawking after her. My whole being wanted to follow, to glide with her, to be a sidekick. What magnificent things the human body can do: what her body can do. Clearly a product of passion, practice, natural talent, and fitness, yet somehow beyond my comprehension. I've seen skaters do these things on TV, of course, but being there, surprised on a downtown sidewalk, I was inspired by the idea of being a superhero myself.

She was there and gone, leaving me in awe of the magnificence of humans. Thank you to this woman and to all of you who inspire me.

******

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Getting Straight A's


Over the New Year's break, I spent a few days reorganizing our laundry room/storage closet. Among the items in there were boxes of keepsakes, which is why it was a multiple-day project: I found myself considering each item, remembering, and telling myself and my family the stories they evoked. Among the memorabilia I found my very first report card from Meadowfield Elementary School. It was a document that Miss McCutcheon had filled in by hand. I'd received straight A's. 

I'd been proud of that accomplishment, although considering it from the vantage point of some four decades later, the feeling is much more complicated. For instance, as an eight-year-old I'd capably done the calculation, figuring that what Miss McCutcheon was telling me with these high marks was that I was the smartest kid in the class. I knew enough to not voice this aloud, but I thought it. Also, in looking back, I know that those grades also indicate that I must have been a "teacher's pet," which is to say an obedient goody-two-shoes.

I don't recall comparing report cards with any of my classmates. For all I know, Miss McCutcheon gave everyone straight A's. Still, when I considered the landscape, I could more or less suss out the kids who weren't so "smart." They were in reading group "D" (I was in "A") or they struggled when called upon to answer the teacher's questions. It was clearly a kind of competition, a race, and that report card let me know that I was in the lead. It was an attitude toward school that carried right through my university education: my classmates might be my friends, but so long as they were ranking us, they were also my competitors. The only time I really encountered teamwork over competition in school was on sports teams, acting in plays, or singing in the choir. Academics was every person for themself.

The real world set me straight. The smartest kids didn't wind up with the most marbles and if I didn't learn to work with these other people, I was going to get no where. The real world was about gathering around, looking at the other people, and asking the question, "Now what are we going to do?" And the process was mostly one of collaboration, or as Eleanor Duckworth puts it, "the collective creation of knowledge." Being the smartest was immaterial in the real world where our successes or failures were shared responsibilities. No one cared about my straight A's. They cared about my contribution, my teamwork, and whether or not the others wanted to hang out with me day in and day out. After all those years of competing with the people around me, I was thrust into a world in which my rise and fall was incumbent upon and dependent upon my "classmates."

This isn't to say that there isn't competition of all kinds in the world outside of school, but the whole being-graded-on-a-curve, don't-peek-at-your-neighbor's-test-answers, here's-your-gold-star model falls by the wayside as the ability to work well with others, to collaborate, takes precedence. The infuriating part about this is that "the collective creation of knowledge" is how children tend to naturally organize their own learning until we teach them otherwise. When we don't rank and judge them as individuals, when we allow them to solve problems together, when we turn them loose on the playground, most children, most of the time, engage the world with others, not against them, which is much more in keeping with the real world I found beyond my own schooling.

We insist that our schools exist to prepare children for life. Why do we make them so unlike life?

******

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Does "Parenting" Stand in the Way of Growing?


At the center of every healthy relationship, and many unhealthy relationships for that matter, is unconditional love. We love our children, our parents, our spouses, and our friends, but, of course, we don't love all of them in the same way: there is a kind of love we have for a lover that is distinct from the love we have our parents. In turn, the love we feel for our parents is essentially different than what we feel for our friends. Love stands at the center of the human experience. And contrary to the quid pro quo calculations of economists and behaviorists, it is love (or lack of love), not self-interest, not conditioning, that inspires almost everything we do. 

I love my wife and she loves me. We've been together for nearly 35 years, most of them happy. There have been ups and downs, of course. We have succeeded and failed, both together and separately. When we sit across from one another at the dinner table, we almost always mirror one another in posture, gesture, and expression, so yes indeed, we have shaped one another, but not consciously. Sure, she sometimes tells me that she wishes I'd do this or that differently, but by far the greatest impact she has had on me being the person I am today has to do with love. She has simply loved me enough to care for me, to be with me, to comfort me, and it's that, not some system of conscious instruction, that has been her contribution: her love has created the safe space in which I've had the freedom to grow into me.

This is what love is all about. Psychologists call it "attachment," I suppose because the word "love" is so full of everything, so a part of everything, that it's difficult to pin down in scholarly work, but when people talk about things like "attachment parenting," what I've come to hear is a kind of oxymoron. The "parenting" suggests an agenda beyond the love. As developmental researcher Alison Gopnik points out, the word parenting, a word that did not exist until the early 1960s, is the verb form of one of, if not the most, foundational relationships in the human experience. Up until recently, it seems it was enough to simply be a parent, to love one's child, and to create the safe space in which they had the freedom to grow into themselves. But being a parent today has increasingly taken on the trappings of a vocation in which it is the parent's job to lovingly manufacture their children into a certain kind of adult. If we talk to our children in a certain way, if we give them enough tough love, if we co-sleep with them, if we Tiger Mom them, we are doing the job of parenting with the longterm goal of creating what we call a "well adjusted adult."

There is scant empirical evidence that the minor variations between what parents do makes any difference in what kind of adults children become, yet there is overwhelming of evidence of the power of attachment, or as I prefer to call it love. Love is enough.

As I've read Alison Gopnik's book The Gardener and the Carpenter, I've been reflecting on this societal shift from being a parent as a relationship to parenting as a vocation and can see that this, more than iPads or social media or violent video games or any of the other boogymen we've identified, may be the real driver behind the spike in childhood mental illnesses like anxiety and depression that we are seeing today. Being a parent has always been difficult, just as it can be difficult to be a spouse or child or friend, but the added stress of turning it into the high stakes (and I would argue impossible) job of manufacturing well-adjusted adults is too much.

I've also been thinking about teachers in this context. The verb "teaching" has always been with us, of course, but I'm beginning to wonder about that as well. The longer I've been a teacher, the less actual teaching I've found myself doing, and the more I've discovered that attachment, that love, is enough. I'm at my best, and the children are at their best, when I step back from teaching and instead simply be a teacher with no agenda other than my relationships, which is to say, creating a safe space in which children have the freedom to grow into themselves.

******

Sign up now to take advantage of New Year's pricing for my new 6-part e-course, The Technology of Speaking With Children So They Can Think, in which I pull the curtain back on the magic that comes from treating children like fully formed human beings. This course is for educators, parents, and anyone else who works with young children. It's the culmination of more than 20 years of research and practice. I've been speaking on this topic around the world for the past decade and know that it can be transformative both for adults and children. For more information and to register, click here. Thank you!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Education Has Nothing to Do With Right and Wrong Answers


My wife Jennifer and I recently met a man named Leon. I found him to be thoughtful, sophisticated, and witty. Yesterday, I overheard Jennifer describing our new friend to someone else, "He's loud, inappropriate, and wildly hilarious." Surely, she wasn't talking about Leon, but she was. How can two people share an experience, yet come away with such different impressions?

Of course, it happens all the time. We both tasted the horse radish, but only I found it yummy. I experienced the roller coaster as terrifying while you want to ride it again and again. As a toddler, our daughter insisted that a waiter at our regular local restaurant was "a very tall guy" even though he was shorter than either of her parents. Indeed, we can never assume that the meaning we derive from any experience will have the same meaning for someone else.

The problem is that education as we know it in this country starts from the false premise that children can and should all derive the same meaning from the same experiences, and the degree to which they don't is the degree to which they have failed, or in the parlance of today's hyperventilating media, the degree to which they have "fallen behind." Educators are to start with the approved meaning, more commonly called "the right answer," and then to reverse engineer their lessons so as to most efficiently direct their students to that goal. Some of them get there just as the teacher expects, walking away from the experience in agreement with the adult-approved answer. Most, however, derive at least a somewhat different meaning from the experience of the teacher's lesson, but after being told they are wrong, they learn to adjust their answer to satisfy the adult's learning objective. This doesn't mean that they've learned the lesson, only that they've adopted the adult's view of the experience.

And then there are those who cannot set aside their "wrong" answer. The meaning they derive from their experience is so clear to them, so manifestly correct, that they simply can't set it aside the way the adults want them to. We might label those kids with a learning disability, hire them a tutor to help them get beyond their false meaning, or send them home with stacks of worksheets to drill them into finally see the light.

There is a time for "right" and "wrong" answers, of course. For instance, I don't want the engineers designing that new bridge to have alternative ideas about where the decimal point goes in their calculation, but our insistence upon them in school, of all places, stands in the way of learning, which is to say, thinking. As an educator, my goal has always been for children to think for themselves, but that's impossible when I don't remain neutral about the substance of any child's answer. The moment I start to signal to them what I hope they are going to say, I divert them away from thinking about the problem before them and toward guessing what I want them to say. 

If I want children to learn to think for themselves, to be critical thinkers, I'm at my best as an educator when I take the stand of a researcher. I shouldn't care what specific answer the child is considering at any given moment. I simply want to know how they are thinking about a problem, what they are thinking about it, and why, but not with the intention of correcting them. No, when we take the stand of a researcher, the goal is understanding. And the best way to get there is to find ways to encourage the child to talk about their thinking. When the child asks "Why?" our role is to ask, in turn, "What do you think?" and then to really listen, not to judge, but to learn.

Education has nothing to do with right and wrong answers. It is about the thinking. 

The other day I was reminded of a five-year-old who wanted to draw a picture of the concept: "What if one were two?" He sat over his blank paper for nearly an hour, brow furrowed, pencil twisting between his fingers. I listened to him talking through the paradox this concept contained. There was meaning there for him that I will likely never fully understand. At every turn, he bumped into problems, thought about them, turning them this way and that in the hope of figuring out how to answer the question. At the end of the day, his drawing was nothing more than a few faint and crooked lines. Not even his parents would have thought to hang it on the wall, a failure by school standards, but I knew, having done my research, that this boy had thought, and thought hard. It's a pity to realize how many children have been labeled failures, "behind," or even disabled because their thinking was deemed less important than a measly right answer.


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