Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Without Diminishing Your Degrees Of Freedom

"It is not for me to change you. The question is, how can I be of service to you without diminishing your degrees of freedom." ~Buckminster Fuller

Yesterday, I wrote about a girl who picked all of our schoolyard garden blueberries before they were ripe. This is not the first time it's happened, indeed, in our six years of attempting to grow various kinds of berries, we've never had one make it to ripeness before being picked. I also mentioned that I have an agenda and that is to one day actually harvest a crop of ripe berries.

That said, another of my adult agenda items, a higher one than a crop of berries, is that children have a garden of their own, a place where they can be among things that grow, day-to-day, from seed to fruit and back again; a place where they can freely experience growing food with all of their senses. And that derives from an even higher value, which is that our school should be a place where children have the freedom to educate themselves by asking and answering their own questions about their world.

I could impose rules about the berries. I could put a fence around the berries. But rules and fences, imposed from on high, would rob her of freedom. She is clearly seeking answers to her questions about berries, about a community garden, about cause and effect, and she should have the freedom to pick those berries, even as I want her to wait until they are ripe. It's only through that exercise of her freedom that she can acquire the knowledge she is seeking.

My agenda is that the other children not be deprived of their share of the blueberries. And I do want to emphasize that this is my agenda. I have this idea that children should experience eating food they've grown themselves. So far, I've never had a child complain about missing out on his share of the berries. If that happened, it would be a different story, a conflict between two or more free people, and my role as the teacher becomes clear: to be of service to them as they attempt to hash it out.

As it stands now, however, the whole blueberries-for-all thing is my agenda. We won't be uprooting our blueberry plants. I reckon we'll leave them right where they are, where they will continue to fulfill their destiny of never producing ripe berries.

In the meantime, we have our new greenhouse, located on the other side of the building. The adult plan is to one day grow enough food there that the children are everyday eating something they've grown themselves, and among those crops, I expect there will be berries. I intend to speak of the plants growing in and around our greenhouse -- the green room -- as our food, as everyone's food. I intend to speak informationally about how plants grow, what they need, and that we often must wait for the good stuff. I hope to create the space in which these free children can think for themselves about their garden and make their own decisions about how we explore this new part of our world.

Will these berries grow to be ripe? I hope so, but they can't come at the cost of diminishing the children's degrees of freedom.

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JB said...

This entry is an excellent representation of many elements of one of our curriculum framework's broad based goals here in New Brunswick (Canada). Diversity and Social Responsibility is all about allowing the children to understand and engage with the natural world. It also happens be all about providing opportunities for the children to make their own decisions about what is right, what is wrong, and what is fair. They are the one's who must judge this in their own learning community. Educators struggle with this goal because of their own agendas and their own sense of justice. I plan to share this with them to support their understanding of what this goal looks like in action. Thanks Tom!

Anonymous said...


I suppose the berries can be used as an analogy for the structural inequities of our society. Certain berries are protected and nourished so that they grow to maturity; they thrived in a protective environment. The others, however, were never allowed to realize their full potential. Speaks to the lot of so many children in the United States.