Tuesday, December 15, 2015

If We Are Afraid Of Play, We Are Afraid Of Freedom

Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children's lives today. In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that's why creativity is crucial to success in the real world. But more and more we are subjecting children to an educational system that assumes one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem, a system that punishes children (and their teachers too) for daring to try different routes.

A couple days ago I commented on a Facebook post from Minnesota Senator Al Franken, crowing about the recent passage of the new version of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 law that ushered in our current era of continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform, not to mention high stakes standardized testing in our schools. I wrote:

Oh come on, Al Franken, this re-authorization of NCLB keeps all the worst aspects of the old law intact. As a teacher, I'm disgusted that we missed this opportunity to actually improve our schools. None of you listen to what teachers have to say about education. None of you. This is the only bi-partisan thing in Washington and both parties are wrong. We will continue to opt out of the high stakes standardized testing coal mines that use child labor to enrich corporations like Pearson.

Here is a piece from the Washington Post detailing the "big problems" with the new law, but from where I sit it appears that the only substantial difference between this one and the old one is that the federal government's control has been shifted to the states (where it belongs), without touching any of the other more heinous aspects. In fact, there are a number of toxic additions, including an emphasis being placed on venture philanthropy funded teacher training, which greatly lowers the standards for teacher education programs. That's right, these geniuses have decided to lower teaching standards as a way to improve schools. Or, to put it another way, they are still trying to de-professionalize teaching so they can bust unions and pay teachers even less. I mean, just check out what's going on with charter schools these days, the original union busting, low paying wedge designed to turn teaching into a subsistence occupation.

And, again, teachers and parents were not consulted. According to research cited by Gray, America's children have seen a steep decline in creativity since the 1980's, which he links to the decline in free play. It's not just our schools, of course, that have evolved into creativity squashing machines, but they are leading the way, causing parents to worry that junior isn't keeping up, resulting in even more structured time, more dependence upon adults, trouble regulating their emotions, and less skill in working with others, on top of lowered creativity. In the end, we have adults not prepared for the real world.

Adults have to stop trying to darn hard to control how children play. Indeed, we seem to have grown afraid of free play and in our fear, we are preventing our children from learning life's most important lessons in a way humans are designed to learn. We seem, as a society to have grown afraid of play. And if we are afraid of play, then we are afraid of freedom. And then what do we have?

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Charleen Kepner said...

Yes indeed! Free play is where we become human. Free play is a child's voice. What is the price of a child's voice?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just restumbled across your blog. I used to live in Seattle and my kids went to co-op preschools, and I also try to parent as if Teacher Chris David were whispering in my ear. She is a wonderful woman who taught me so much!

I'm doing some research for a friend who is considering a job offer at Amazon (SLU i think), and who would like an at least somewhat progressive school (but not democratic) for her elementary aged children. It seems to me that the co-op community would have the knowledge, perspective and/or tips that could help my friend. Greatschools and that sort of thing often have reviews from parents with a very different educational philosophy. Public or private suggestions are welcome.

Thank you!