Sunday, August 12, 2012

Preaching To The Choir

I'm not afraid of making a mess, I'm really not, and fortunately, our parent community supports the proposition that their kids may well come home covered from head to toe, and in fact there are always one or two who pull me aside each year for concerned conversations about why their kid does not. It's such a regular part of what we do that I don't really even think about it and am always a little shocked when I hear an adult not versed in our school say to her granddaughter or nephew, "Try not to get your clothes messy." 

Earlier this summer we tried out using shaving cream as mortar for building with wooden blocks. We've also painted with cars and on easels. So last week I thought it might be fun to try all 3 at once, side by side.

Ha, ha, haa . . . Oh? That wasn't a joke? Oh right, that's how the rest of the world works. 

We live here in a bubble in so many ways at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools. It's even a rather small bubble here on the internet where all us birds of a feather have flocked together around a handful of blogs and Facebook pages that support play-based learning, child-lead activities, positive parenting, progressive teaching, and playing outdoors.

I'm reminded of it about once a month when one of my more strident posts, as happened yesterday, pokes through the bubble and gets shared around the wider world out there where watching TV isn't such a bad thing or where spanking is the best idea they've got. I'm reminded that there are still a lot of people out there who haven't figured out that children are fully formed human beings with ideas, feelings and agendas, where "tough love" is still a thing, and where all those "messed up kids" come from  not enough of it. I'm reminded that there are children who will be punished if they get their clothes messy.

Every day, we send kids home wet or dirty or paint-y or something, not all the kids, because some don't like it, but there's always that option. I go home wet or dirty or paint-y on most days, as do many of our parent-teachers. Every child brings a change of clothes each day, and for those who need more than one change, the school keeps its own supply. 

I like it here in our bubble. I don't like it when ill-informed people come in here and accuse me of helping to create sociopaths, of advocating for "permissive parenting," or for insisting that children must be "trained" as if they're pets that must be taught to obey. I don't shy away from debate, but it exhausts me to have to make the same case over and over. Sometimes I just want to preach to the choir.

I like it here in our bubble where everyone can get messy if they want, where we respect and trust children and research and play.

Come on into the bubble and sing along. It's fun to sing with the choir.

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Clare Kirkpatrick said...

I so know what you mean! I'm a home educator and sometimes forget that most of the world isn't like myself and our family friends. I often describe it in the same way you do - like being in a bubble where children are respected and taken seriously and treated as equal beings, not lesser ones.

I get pulled up short when I stumble onto a site with 'normal' parents and find myself feeling sad, frustrated, and bemused.

I don't think I was ever a 'normal' parent, and definitely had a loud inner voice telling me that, for instance, my baby should be in a sling, not a pram. But it's blogs like yours and many others, (and now my own, I hope!) that has led me and many other parents down the path their hearts are tugging them towards. Without the rest of us shouting about respecting children, it's difficult to hear our hearts above the noise of 'normal' parenting, so thank you for writing it and keep going! It's encouraging and it's a great constant reminder of why we're doing it like this :)

jackie @ Happy Hooligans said...

When those ill-informed people come calling, you have a whole army of us here who will happily back you up, Teacher Tom.

Floor Pie said...

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I know how it is to keep making the same (we think) compelling arguments time and again only to find it had very little effect beyond our circle. I've been trying to loosen my grip these days, to stay close to the kids and parents *I* know and love, and to lead by example.

I guess at some point you have to ask yourself: What is my actual goal, here? Maybe you don’t have to change the Internet’s mind. Maybe it’s enough to just reach out to and support the like-minded teachers and parents out there, to share ideas, to laugh and commiserate together. It doesn’t have to be a revolution.

And we don’t always have to agree, bubble or not. I’ve had some major disagreements with some of your posts. The TV post, for example, was a little too “mommy wars” for my taste. And that poem about how much public school sucks –I read that on The Boy’s first day at his new public school last year when I was already a nervous wreck about it. That one actually hurt my feelings, even though I knew it wasn’t your intention. I felt mocked.

But I’ve always felt free to openly disagree with you without being branded ill-informed or loosing your friendship. I know it’s more fun to preach to the choir, but your efforts at patiently engaging those who disagree have not gone unappreciated. I think it creates a richer community.

Terri Lowell said...

Thank you for your post. I feel like this on so many days! But I also feel very blessed to be able to come to our bubble online and read posts such as this.

Amanda L. said...

I love your bubble, teacher Tom. I've only been reading for a couple of months, but you and others like you have made it possible for me to trust my parenting instincts.

My little one is only 6 months old, but already I'm hoping that when the time comes, we will find a preschool in our area (Richland, WA) will fit our life as well as I think yours would.

Mrs. V said...

My Motto: "The dirt washes off, the memories don't."

Childhood is incomplete without mud pies, tree forts, and puddles.

Anonymous said...

Teacher Tom --
I have been reading your blog every day for about six months. I am a preschool teacher in an elementary school in a big city that has an iron-clad focus on testing, and am not surrounded by people who share similar beliefs about how little kids learn, with a principal who admittedly does not know much about early childhood, and parents who come to me dying to learn. Luckily, I have a lot of autonomy in my preschool classroom, and I cannot tell you what your little space on the internet has come to mean to me. It reminds me how I am not alone in believing in little kids, and reinforces all of the ideas about how little people learn that I already knew, but am constantly defending. Anyway, I felt compelled to comment today to let you know how much I appreciate this space and your advocacy on behalf of little people across the country.

Sandi said...

And let's push that bubble into the k-12 system, one teacher, one classroom, one school, one school board at at time ...


Nadia said...

I like what I see of your world and you have every right to stay in your bubble. But you should also know that you do make a difference with what you write. You do reach more people that just the "choir"... you inspire people to be strong and resolute in what they know to be right. You won't change the extremists of this world, who are all too happy in their collective ignorance, but you may enlighten someone who is on the fence or someone who is looking for a gentler, more humanistic way of rearing kids but just doesn't know how... thanks.

Nicole said...

Thank you for this blog. I'm a first-time mom of a little girl with a huge spark. Your blog inspires me to nurture her spark. We're going to get extra messy tomorrow. But seriously, when I've had an emotionally exhausting day I love to come here and read your gentle tone and approach. It helps.

Anonymous said...

Since you're obviously referring to my post, I'll take the time to comment here. Suffice it to say you haven't posited an actual response here. What's sad about your response is that a kid with who's taken high school psychology could read your pathology like a book.. You were mistreated, and now you see everything that doesn't jibe with your approach as abusive. You're scared of your own shadow and afraid that instructions equal power trips. Of course the great irony about all of your self righteous babble here is that this post is a total ego trip. Equating what I said to being upset that a child is dirty only makes it all the more obvious.

Also, your intellectual rigidity is somewhat appalling. For example, there is no grand-meta narrative to which you can appeal to say that something for once and always is defined a certain way (postmodernism 101). Saying that "training" refers to animals is not only ridiculous, it's further evidence of just how perilously you operate from your own woundedness, and from the assumption that when someone dissents, they're clearly out to cage and leash children. The fact that you're so threatened is itself confirming of the lack of stable base from which you operate practically and philosophically.

Finally, as to your personal attacks asserting that "tv isn't such a bad thing" and "spanking"'s laughable that you can't do better than that, but since you went there, neither of these accusations are true for our family. It really is hard for me to fathom that you believe, alluding to your last blog, that telling kids to pick up their blocks equals this. It's crazy. When you paint with broad strokes like that, what do you do expect others responses will be? You're frustration with the entire rest of the world is self-created.

I actually gather that you are an intelligent guy, which makes most of this all the more difficult to understand. But of course history is replete with persons who live in bubbles and tell everyone else there's is the only way. They're called cult leaders. Things usually end badly for them. Notice how much you preach about the loveliness of disobedience and then chastise me publicly for getting out of line. Funny, ain't it?

Now. If you'd like to lay down the personal insults, I'm happy to call truce. If you really believe I'm so uninformed, please engage me in a real conversation.


Teacher Tom said...

Wow Ryan! This post was only a response to you in the most general sense, in that I was including your comments along with a batch of others that came my way from that post and others I've received over the years. I haven't even begun to formulate a response to you personally. Sorry you took this post as a personal insult.

And thanks for the free psychological analysis!

When I do get around to responding to your previous message, I'll make sure to let you know.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. The paragraph referring to "ill-informed" people that then paraphrases or quotes my commentary 3x. That's the one that had me thinking this was to me. I can appreciate that others' comments are included as well. Still, hope you can see where I was coming from.

The great irony of the lack of productivity in our interactions thus far, which I'll admit, was started by the intensity level of my first post, is that I'm anxious to hear what substantive things you do have to offer. That I disagree with much of what you have to say isn't to say I'd disagree with it all, and I'll happily integrate what I can, if there is insight to be gleaned.

BTW, if it means anything to you, re: my comment above about "intensity", I'm sorry.