Thursday, January 07, 2021

"I Was a Different Person Then"


A two-year-old boy was hitting his classmates, not out of anger or frustration, but seemingly, as a matter of course. If you had a block he wanted, he would hit you, then take it. It was happening multiple times a day and the obvious tactics didn't seem to be working. I asked the child's parent for advice as well as our class' parent educator. We then had a wider discussion that included the entire parent community because as a cooperative school the parents also work in the classroom as assistant teachers. This boy was our primary topic of adult conversation for several days, including an evening meeting. We settled on a unified plan of action, and then, from one day to the next, he stopped hitting the other kids.

This wasn't the first time I'd experienced this phenomenon and it wouldn't be the last. I wasn't the only one who noticed. In fact, it became a joke amongst us that the best way to end a behavioral problem was for the adults to talk it into the ground and by the time we thought we had figured it out, so would the child.

Before Aristotle, Plato, or even Socrates, Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitis wrote, "Change is the only constant in life." He probably stole the line from a teacher. After all, it's our business, this process of human change, which is another way of saying growth or learning. We aren't carpenters building children. We don't fill them like one would empty vessels. We're more like gardeners tending plants: we keep them safe, make sure they get food and water, pull the weeds, add a bit of fertilizer every now and then, and otherwise watch them change day after day after day. When things go awry, we make a study, we check with colleagues and experts, we strive to determine exactly who they are right now and what they need, then we make alterations to the child's environment, but whatever happens, we don't change the child any more than we educate them: they ultimately must change themselves. 

When asked to recount her adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll's Alice famously replied, "I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then." This is true for all of us, of course. When we look back over our lives, we see that we are indeed different people than we were back then. We know that this past year, for instance, has transformed us into people we might not even have recognized last January, but this is the case every January, plague or no plague. As adults, day-to-day changes might not be so obvious, but when it comes to young children, the constant of change is apparent with every passing day: each time we see them, they are different people, and try as we might, we can never go back to yesterday. Our greatest glory as educators (friends, spouses, parents, or just generally as human beings) is is when we play the role of midwives, fully recognizing and celebrating the brand new person who stands before us, right now, not yesterday or tomorrow, a human who with each passing moment is being born anew as themselves.

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