Monday, October 12, 2015

Play Is Bigger Than Education

I recently re-visited an essay by Alfie Kohn that was published in the Washington Post. For those of you who don't know, Kohn is the author of a dozen books on education and human behavior and is a leading light in the movement to return education to progressive roots.

In this piece, he puts a finger on something vitally important about play: it is intrinsically valuable and we make a deal with the devil when we argue that "teaching music to children improves their proficiency at math, or that a given progressive innovation raises test scores." 

It seems to me that our culture has gotten way off track when so many of us simply don't understand this. It still staggers me that childhood play must be defended. Yet as Kohn points out, even those of us who have adopted the idea of "play" as central to education are still having a hard time turning the children loose in an open-ended, pointless way, but are rather labeling activities as play that are really "teacher-directed and involve little or no free play, imagination, or creativity." 

This is what the cult of "academics" has done to us. It has taken us away from our essential selves. It has made us feel guilty and pressured. Academics is the language of commerce, of command, and of obedience. It robs us of joy, or at least confines it into boxes labeled "holidays" or "weekends." 

This is about so much more than mere education. Play is bigger than that. I would argue that this is why we are here on the planet: to play, to engage freely with creation, to explore it according to our passions, to immerse ourselves creatively and open-endedly with the things and people we find around us, every day, all the time. This is what I learn from children. This is what I find when I look inward. This is what I see when I look at the rest of nature. 

Play is how our souls express themselves. Play is love. And we don't need to defend that.

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Laurie said...

If you haven't seen it yet check out Michael Gramling's new book "The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education: What We Know vs. What We Do"

Catriona Gill said...

Absolutely! Though perhaps our deal with the devil is pragmatism at work when we look to provide evidence for what we believe/know to be true.

I completely believe that play and creativity are two of the most important things about being human, ‘man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.’ (Schiller, 1794)

Erin McKittrick - Ground Truth Trekking said...

So, given all of this, how do you feel about sending the kids from your preschool on to regular school, and all that entails? Is there a way to let older kids take advantage of all of what we know about play and creativity and self direction (other than homeschooling--which I love but isn't an option for everyone)

greyhoundgirl said...

Good post. Completely agree with your views on play and education. You and your readers might be interested in this organization: Defending the Early Years, started by Nancy Carllson-Paige and some other early childhood people. They work to promote play and against Common Core and other testing.

Shelley said...

While I completely agree with free, open ended play throughout childhood, I would caution against demonizing academics. I don't believe it is just the language of "commerce" but also the language of democracy, the language of civil rights, the true equalizing force in any free society. The ability to access information and use it keeps us all free. We must fight hard to make sure all children have access to that language, as well as to the language of their souls!