Friday, February 10, 2012

Giving Away My Power

Disobedience is not an issue if obedience is not the goal. ~Daron Quinlan

I have never been interested in obedient children. They tend to either grow into rebellious teens who are a danger to themselves as they try to "make up for" all that time spent living under a regimen of artificially repressed urges, or perhaps worse, obedient adults who are a danger to the rest of us.

This is why the children at Woodland park make their own rules. This is why we adhere in to the law of natural consequences. This is why we strive to avoid bossing the children around with directives like, "Sit here," or "Put the blocks away." This is why I actively teach children to question authority and why we celebrate when they engage in civil disobedience.

I have no patience for people who justify their authoritarian approach to children by arguing that it works. If I'm bigger and stronger than you, if I have more power than you, if I have more money than you, I can use that strength, power or money to force you into doing my bidding no matter how hard you fight back. Of course it works if the goal is mere obedience. It's a lazy, short-term, adversarial approach, one that will ultimately backfire, but sure, in the immediate moment threats and violence shut the kid up and make him submissive.

What children learn from authoritarian parenting and teaching is that might makes right. What they learn is to follow leaders, not because they are doing something great, but because they can punish you if you don't. What they learn is that someone else is responsible for their behavior and decisions, that the powerful know best, and that knowing "their place" is their highest calling.

Adults who have internalized these messages make wonderful factory workers. They are reliable votes for one political party or another. They are easy prey for cults and crazies. And when they do find themselves with an upper hand over someone else, like a child, they are far more likely to wield that authority abusively because that's what, in their experience, the powerful do.

As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to give away whatever power is implied by that title, to let the children be in charge of their own learning, of their own bodies, of their own small society. I want them to make the "right" decisions, not because I've told them so, but because they have learned through experience that it is the right decision. I want them to know that they are always responsible for their own behavior. I want them to know that their feelings, their thoughts, and their opinions are just as important as anyone else's.

I want them to know, most of all, that this is true even for people with who are stronger, more powerful or wealthier. I want them to grow to be adults who make their own decisions and will not be pushed around.

And yes, it's a lot more work for the loving adults in a child's life, but man, it's worth it.

Note: I love the "Daron Quinlan" quote at the top of the this post and have used it often here on the blog, but have never been able to track down who this Daron Quinlan person is. A little while back, I received the following message:

I stumbled across this post today and laughed, because I am Daron Quinlan. It's not my real name, and if I had said that today I might have attached my real name instead, but such is life, I guess. I wrote it on a parenting board years ago, as part of a discussion on discipline. Another member picked up on it and started using it in her sig, and Jan Hunt saw it there and asked for permission to use it on the Natural Child Project. I said yes. I had used the name Daron online for years - it's from a mishearing of my actual name, which is definitely female, as am I - and the last name is my daughter's but not mine.

I didn't realize the quote had become so well-known. Jan did invite me to write an essay but I never did. I've written a lot on the boards under the name Dar, if you're curious. My only child is almost 19 and is currently in college full-time after unschooling through high school. She's a lovely person: bright, compassionate, funny, kind, and all-around wonderful, and I miss her a lot when she's away at college - where she's thriving, just by the way.

I parented as a single mother and my daughter and I talked a lot, about everything, from the time that she was very little - under 2, because I remember a woman commenting on our conversation once. I didn't do a lot of "not letting" her do things, really. I did much more of "let's find a safe way to do that". Maybe it's semantics, but I found that it worked better, and still does. 

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Kristina Hansen said...

Teacher Tom, Please consider writing a book! Your viewpoints need to reach a larger audience.

Anonymous said...

Right on! Are you familiar with Responsive Classroom?

Anonymous said...

I am a dad of two kids of my our and the women im inlove with hasa son that i was tring to be his step dad i see now that i was doing alot wrong in my part of tring to raise them i was pushy by saying im right when i see now i wasnt but i did what i thought was right my partner did it this way now i see how i wasnt doing that its wasnt to be mean it was how i was tought i did it with love never to be the meanie i see here i did it all wrong i can and will learn to do things better cause family worth learning to be better for all my kids thanks for showing me the path to being better dad partner and friend Dan K

Aunt Annie said...

Tom, we are definitely on the same page again- did you see this post of mine from last week?

I got an unbelievable number of hits- it's obviously a hot topic- and your post deserves the same. I'm going to link this one of yours in with my own post and share it next to a rerun of mine. Perhaps if people see we're singing the same song in complementary ways, we can change the world... :D

Kimberly said...

So true. Most of the time if we really want our children to stay out of trouble we have to ultimately just change the way we as parents do things. It's a real art to enable kids to think and discover natural consequences. It takes a lot more time and patience than just bossing them around and threatening them. In the end though it is so worth it!!

Calgary Mom said...

I'm once again reminded why I'm frustrated finding a preschool for my son. It's because I want more for my son than is normally offered. I want him to learn self-discipline and self-reliance not "how to be quiet and do what you're told". I want him to climb trees, play outside and get dirty. I want him to be challenged to learn new things and to come home with the knowledge HE can do it (not his teacher do it for him). The search continues but continues knowing what I'm looking for isn't completely impossible to find.

Anonymous said...

Have you read about Tommy Jordan's punishment to his 15-year old daughter via Facebook? It's garnering quite the controversy. I'm wondering what your thoughts are about it. Do "ungrateful" teenagers sometimes need extreme parenting to get through to them? My son is only 3 and while I don't ever see myself picking up a gun, I also can understand the sheer frustration of dealing with teens.

Teacher Tom said...

Wow, I've not heard about the Tommy Jordan thing and I'm pretty sure I don't want to if it involves a gun. I have a 15-year-old myself and LOVE being the parent of a teenager.

And I've not heard of the Responsive Classroom either. I'll have to check up on it. Thanks!

Tareyn said...

Anon, for me, what's most disappointing about the shot-yer-laptop YouTube clip is the number of people who chimed in with "Damn straight, Tommy, kids today gotta know their place. Yeehaw!" So much ignorance!
Teacher Tom, I love this post. I'm curious to know whether the kids do help clean up the blocks without directives or if you're left to do it all at the end of the day?

Anonymous said...

You are completely right, Taryen, it was completely disheartening to read that majority of comments agreed with the father's actions. The few posters who suggested it wasn't appropriated parenting were called tree-huggers, clueless and 'obviously not parents!'

Tareyn said...

Ha! I also saw a few "bleeding-heart liberals" thrown around.

Anonymous said...

I like what you say, but I mostly hear what not to do. I was raised in a very strict Do As Your Told manner, and I hear my father speaking through me more than I would like to admit. What is it that I should be saying? You may call it lazy- but I am working my butt off doing it. If I knew a way to keep my kids from tearing the place apart while being under their own control- well I am all for it. They are 5 and 3, and, well, Help.
thank you.

Leigh @ Toasted said...

I love the sentiment of this post, but I also want to echo the thoughts of 'anonymous' who just does't know how to do it. For me, the two areas I have reluctantly become authoritarian is; when it comes to getting to places on time (like school), and bedtime (which can otherwise stretch out to two hours.) 'Discussing' just isn't feasible for my own state of mind - which surely needs to be valued as much as children who think independently.

Teacher Tom said...

Here are a couple of posts in which I spend more time on "what to do:"

Sorry, blogger doesn't let you put links in comments -- you'll have to cut and paste.

Cath Prisk said...

Hi Tom, just linked to your blogsite as an example of what play in early years should look like, as part of our campaign to increase outdoor play across England, the UK, the world!

It was a response to a growing level of concern that play is being structured right out of the lives of young children. Hope you like it, and keep up the inspirational blogging!

Cath Prisk, Director Play England

momma2two said...

Tom, This was just exactly what I needed to hear today. I'm a toddler teacher (and toddler/teenager mom too), at a former lab-school that has been reassigned to a director with no understanding of DAP or infant/toddler attachment theory. My colleagues and I are forging the struggle daily, and just when we feel like giving you are posting about doing what is right even in the face of authoritarians. I passed your post on to my comrades with a note that we must set an example for the children-providing them with the rich experiences we know they are seeking, even if it means a battle for us. Thanks for keeping us strong, Tom!

Michelle said...

love this post!

what is that super fun green goop on the garbage can lid?

Leigh @ Toasted said...

Thanks for putting the time and thought into answering the queries I (and others) had around this topic. I've just managed to find my way back to your responses (the links and your post the next day) as we were having a bit of hard times (probably part of why I responded to your post a I did.)

There's a lot of info, ideas and tips that I'm taking away with me - some I already knew, some new ideas, and some concepts taken just that little bit further. You're a good man, I can tell!

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