Friday, December 12, 2014

The Essential Feature In Productive Thought

Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote, "Play is the highest form of research." It's unlikely he actually said that. The line was probably first used by the education researcher N.V. Scarfe in a 1962 article entitled "Play Is Eduction" as a way to sort of summarize what Einstein actually said:

The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with the basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.

I've wracked my brain to think of play that is not "combinatory or associative."

What is this thing?

I proudly use the word "play" to describe what we do. When people ask "what kind" of school we are I usually reply that we're a "cooperative preschool with a play-based curriculum." I then typically have to define cooperative: people rarely ask me to define play. I reckon most people are either so taken aback by the full-on hippy-dippy descriptions of our little democratic society that they're looking for a way out of the conversation, or they figure they already know what play is about. I don't often find myself around people who question the inherent "goodness" of play for preschoolers.

What does it do?

But I know they're out there, those who would steal play from young children, who would block their way toward productive thought, and their numbers sometimes seem to be growing, although, encouragingly, I also see signs of a backlash against those who would drive our youngest citizens with their "academic" hogwash. Still, many of us find we need to avoid the word "play," with it's connotations of unserious frivolousness. Maybe we have to raise money or recruit students from a pool of parents who have been made afraid by the corporate "reformer's" who drive their efforts to turn public schools into profitable little academic sweatshops through a campaign of fear that junior is "fall behind." We cast about for words to replace play; words like "hands-on" or "inquiry-based" or "experiential," all of which tend, to me, to sound too jargon-y and vague to really describe what we do to anyone but the already initiated.

What can I make it do?

I would like to suggest that if you can't use the word "play," there is nothing deceptive in describing what we do as "research-based." I mean, research is the essence of play anyway. All day long, that's what children are doing at Woodland Park, developing theories and asking questions about their physical or social or philosophical world, setting up experiments designed to answer their questions, then engaging in productive thought about they have experienced.

Here's another one with which to prove my discoveries.

Sometimes those questions are answered, sometimes they lead to unexpected discoveries or inventions, and sometimes the questions remain unanswered, left for another day of productive thought.

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