Thursday, November 30, 2017

This Very Real, Very Important Work The Children Need To Do

We don't have a huge set of big wooden blocks, which is okay because we don't really have enough space for more and besides, if the kids are going to play with them, they generally need to find a way to play with them together, which is what our school is all about.

The most popular dramatic play game during the first couple months of school had been "super heroes." It was mostly boys, but they hadn't been particularly exclusionary, with several of the girls regularly joining them, often making up their own hero names like "Super Cat" due to the lack of female characters of the type in our popular culture. This in turn inspired some of the boys to make up their own hero names like "Super Dog" and "Falcon," along with their own super powers. And although there had been a few instances of someone declaring, "We already have enough super heroes," in an attempt to close the door behind them, most of the time, the prerequisite for joining the play was to simply declare yourself a super hero, pick a super hero name, and then hang around with them boasting about your great might, creating hideouts, and bickering over nuance.

A few months into the school year, however, a break-away group began playing, alternatively, Paw Patrol and Pokemon, which looked to me like essentially the same game with new characters. One day, some boys playing Paw Patrol used all of the big wooden blocks to create their "house," complete with beds and blankets. A girl who was often right in the middle of the super hero play wanted to join them, but when the boys asked, "Who are you?" she objected to being a Paw Patrol character at all. Indeed, she wanted to play with them and with the blocks they were using, but the rub was that she didn't want to play their game.

After some back and forth during which the Paw Patrol kids tried to find a way for her to be included, they offered her a few of their blocks to play with on her own, then went back to the game.

She arranged her blocks, then sat on them, glaring at the boys. They ignored her. I was sitting nearby watching as her face slowly dissolved from one of anger to tears. An adult tried to console her, but was more or less told to back off. I waited a few minutes, then sat on the floor beside her, saying, "You're crying."

She answered, "I need more blocks." I nodded. She added, "They have all the blocks."

I replied, "They are using most of the blocks and you have a few of the blocks."

"They won't give me any more blocks."

I asked, "Have you asked them for more blocks?"

Wiping at her tears she shook her head, "No."

"They probably don't know you want more blocks."

She called out, "Can I have some more blocks?"

The boys stopped playing briefly, one of them saying, "We're using them!" then another added, "You can have them when we're done," which is our classroom mantra around "sharing."

She went back to crying, looking at me as if to say, See?

I said, "They said you can use them when they're done . . . Earlier I heard them say you could play Paw Patrol with them."

"I don't want to play Paw Patrol. I just want to build."

I sat with her as the boys leapt and laughed and lurched. I pointed out that there was a small building set that wasn't being used in another part of the room, but she rejected that, saying, "I want to build with these blocks."

I nodded, saying, "I guess we'll just have to wait until they're done." That made her cry some more.

This is hard stuff we're working on here in preschool. And, for the most part, that's pretty much all we do at Woodland Park: figuring out how to get along with the other people. Most days aren't so hard, but there are moments in every day when things don't go the way we want or expect them to and then, on top of getting along with the other people, there are our own emotions with which we must deal. Academic types call it something like "social-emotional functioning," but I think of it as the work of creating a community.

It's a tragedy that policymakers are pushing more and more "academics" into the early years because it's getting in the way of this very real, very important work the children need to do if they are going to lead satisfying, successful lives. In our ignorant fearfulness about Johnny "falling behind" we are increasingly neglecting what the research tells us about early learning. From a story about a recently published study conducted by researchers from Penn State and Duke Universities:

Teachers evaluated the kids based on factors such as whether they listened to others, shared materials, resolved problems with their peers and were helpful. Each student was then given an overall score to rate their positive skills and behavior, with zero representing the lowest level and four for students who demonstrated the highest level of social skill and behavior . . . Researchers then analyzed what happened to the children in young adulthood, taking a look at whether they completed high school and college and held a full-time job, and whether they had any criminal justice, substance abuse or mental problems . . . For every one-point increase in a child's social competency score in kindergarten, they were twice as likely to obtain a college degree and 46% more likely to have a full-time job by age 25 . . . For every one-point decrease in a child's social skill score in kindergarten, he or she had a 67% higher chance of having been arrested in early adulthood, a 52% higher rate of binge drinking and an 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Here is a link to the actual study. And this is far from the only research that has produced these and similar results, just the most recent one.

If our goal is well-adjusted, "successful" citizens, we know what we need to do. In the early years, it isn't about reading or math. It's not about learning to sit in desks or filling out work sheets or queuing up for this or that. If we are really committed to our children, we will recognize that their futures are not dependent upon any of that stuff, but rather this really hard, messy, emotional work we do every day as we play with our fellow citizens.

Books make great gifts. Maybe someone you know would like their very own copy of my book!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Making Order From Chaos

Puzzles are not, by definition, open-ended toys. Unlike most things we play with at Woodland Park they come complete with a "right" answer, which makes them the odd man out in our classroom. Oh sure, kids can play with them as one would with loose parts, just as they can play with anything as loose parts, but when they do, it greatly increases the likelihood of lost or damaged pieces and, unlike most toys, a missing piece renders a puzzle, if not useless, at least greatly dissatisfying for those of us who enjoy the challenge of a good puzzle.

And many of us do enjoy a puzzle. For those of us who do, it's usually a meditative process of creating order from chaos, of making meaning from meaninglessness, of completing the incomplete. Most kids, most days, don't spend a lot of time with our table top puzzles, even if they are puzzlers at home. A busy classroom full of other people and things contains a lot of distractions and puzzles, if they are good puzzles, require a certain amount of concentration. But there are always a few who can't resist, even amidst the busy-ness, often setting themselves the additional challenge of working "all" of them. Others can spend an hour working and re-working the same puzzle, mastering it. So while the puzzle table is rarely where children flock, there is almost always someone there, concentrating.

Since we're a cooperative school with plenty of adult support, I have the luxury of assigning a parent-teacher to keep an eye on the puzzles, making sure the pieces don't walk away, re-ordering things when someone decides to "help" their classmates by dumping out all the puzzle pieces, and generally supporting the kids when they struggle.

Generally speaking, puzzling is a solitary process, unless we're talking about our large floor puzzles. These lend themselves to a community process one in which as many as a dozen kids might be involved in assembling a single puzzle, crowding around, putting there heads together, jockeying for body space, negotiating, cooperating, and concentrating. Sometimes a child will insist that she will "do it myself," but that edict rarely sticks as classmates still gather around anyway, kibitzing, the prospect of working with others to make order from chaos too strong to resist.

It's always a beautiful thing to watch the children working together, each bringing her or his own puzzling techniques or strategies to the project. There are few things more heartwarming than to stand amongst them, these great humans coming together, voluntarily, around a common journey, one that may have a pre-determined destination, but an infinite number of ways to get there.

There is always a cheer when the last piece of a floor puzzle is put into place, a celebration of us which is then followed by a moment as everyone gathers around to gaze upon their creation and, godlike, to call it good. Usually then, they agree to return the universe to chaos, feverishly working together to dismantle their puzzle before moving on to the next.

The holidays are upon us. Maybe someone you know would like their very own copy of my book!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Striving In That Direction

A common characteristic of play-based schools are policies discouraging adults from helping children with things they can do for themselves. This goes for everyday personal care things like putting on jackets and using the toilet, as well as physical challenges like climbing to the top of the playhouse or using the swings.

Ideally, we step back as they engage their struggles. When they begin to get frustrated, we might support them with narrative statements like, "You've put your arm in the sleeve," or perhaps helpful informative statements like, "Your other sleeve is behind you." When it's something necessary like dressing appropriately for outdoors or peeing in the potty, we then might step in with actual assistance when it appears the challenge is still too much for them, but only after giving each child a chance to do what he can for himself. When it's something with which the child is challenging herself, like climbing a tree, we might move closer and offer words of encouragement, or say things like, "I won't help you, but I won't let you get hurt."

Competence is built upon perseverance and these struggles with meaningful, real-world challenges (as opposed to the manufactured challenges of tests and homework) are the foundations upon which confident, self-motivated humans are built.

As a cooperative preschool in which parents work in the classroom as assistant teachers, this is one of the most important and difficult lessons some parents learn. Teachers who have never worked in a cooperative often ask me if parents "get in the way" or intervene too much or too quickly, and my answer is, "Yes, they do." When families arrive at our school with their two-year-olds, many are still brand new to the parenting game, primarily experienced in caring for infants who need so much done for them. For first time parents, that is the only parent-child relationship they know, and while there was a time when it frustrated me, I've come to realize that part of my job is to recognize where they are on their journey and to be there as they, and their child, transition into this new phase.

In other words, we don't always live up to our ideal, but rather, as is the case with any ideal, we always strive in that direction. 

The "unicycle merry-go-round" is one of the features of our outdoor classroom. It's made to sit on a paved surface, which we had when we acquired it, but it's now installed on sloped, wood chip covered ground. There's a "track" upon which the wheels are meant to turn, but it's almost always blocked with wood chips and other debris making it nearly impossible for children to peddle. At the beginning of the school year, in our 2's class in particular, there is almost always an adult bent to the task of pushing the children.

But as time passes, I know that this is where I'll see clear evidence of the progress we've make along our journey. The adults will begin to stand back without my encouragement, as their children struggle with the apparatus. We will wait as the kids identify the wood chip problem themselves. They will find brooms to sweep the track. Some will choose to be "riders" while others will be "motors," pushing one another around and around, taking turns by an unspoken system of their own devices, while the adults stand back, not helping, all of us striving toward our ideal.

Hey, the holidays are upon us. Maybe someone you know would like their very own copy of my book!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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Monday, November 27, 2017


Last night, my mother-in-law was unenthusiastic about her restaurant dessert. "It's chocolate, whipped cream, and hazel nuts. In my generation people would have just said, 'Why?'" There was a pause around the dinner table, then we all burst into laughter.

"Why?" indeed.

It's a good question. It's always a good question, one that young preschoolers are famous for asking, often annoyingly so. My own daughter Josephine hit the "Why?" phase during her three-year-old year. I chose to not let it get under my skin and instead attempted, in the spirit of a game, to honestly answer the question whenever and wherever we were, going deeper and deeper and deeper until we came to the place where my only honest answer was, "I don't know, but we can find out." It's the game played by scientists and philosophers, theologians and toddlers, one that is infinitely deep, each answer spawning another "Why?"

I understand why overwhelmed adults might find such a seemingly endless game aggravating, but it's important to know that they aren't doing it to get on your nerves. Most of the time, it's a genuine attempt to get closer to the truth as each answer leads to more questions much the way that there is always one more shovelful of sand to remove from a hole. Sometimes the questions lead back to themselves, creating an endless loop. Sometimes they lead to a parsing of parsings. Sometimes they open up the universe.

One day Josephine met another slightly younger girl amongst the toys at Ikea who turned the tables on her, asking "Why?" to every one of her answers. Finally, in frustration, Josephine said, "Stop asking that question!" And from that moment forward the "Why?" phase was done at our house. I suppose it's the repetition that gets under our skin, as it did with Josephine, but I often wonder if it goes deeper than that. If we don't just answer perfunctorily, the chain of "Why?" takes us, step-by-step, towards an "I don't know" that we can't "find out," a place where speculation is all we have. We are left with the unknown, an uncomfortable place to be for many of us.

We all know where "Why?" ultimately leads us, even it if enlightens us until it doesn't. That's why we paused before we laughed at my mother-in-laws dessert critique: we needed a moment to let our minds follow the logic of her question. But then we laughed from our bellies because the alternative is to cry all day.

At some point we learn to stop asking "Why?" if only because we don't want to irritate the other people, but I hope that when we stop asking it aloud we continue to at least ask it of ourselves and to let the answers, or at least the pursuit of those answers, continue to guide us into the places where "Why?" cannot be answered.

While you're here at the bottom of this post, maybe you can think of someone who would like a copy of my new book for the holidays! Buying books isn't consumerism -- you can never buy too many books!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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Thursday, November 23, 2017

For Which To Be Thankful

I have many things for which to be thankful. At the top of my list is our daughter (who returned from college yesterday to celebrate) and my wife to whom I've now been married for 31 years, to the day. I'm also thankful for my mother and father who I'll be seeing in few hours, along with my brother and sister and their families and every dog who has ever been my companion. And then there are the children and families that make up, and have always made up, the Woodland Park Cooperative School community, people who, in a very real sense, created the man I am today. I would not trade my life for any other: if I could do it all again, I'd do it exactly the same way, mistakes and all. 

Not long ago, I read about a survey in which it was reported that the average American, no matter our socio-economic station, felt we could be economically satisfied with about 10 percent more money. This was true of both billionaires and paupers. I suspect this is true about most of the good things in our lives. I know I could, for instance, do with about 10 percent more sleep, 10 percent more free time, and 10 percent more sex, in addition to that 10 percent pay increase. So, as we gather today to reflect upon those things for which we are thankful, it's against a background of always wanting, or of thinking we want, more, a phenomenon that we will prove, as a nation, over the course of the month of consumerism that begins with so-called Black Friday.

Among the many other things for which I'm thankful is the fact that the adults in our family chose some two decades ago to step back from the sales and malls and cash registers. We capped our holiday spending at $5 per person and have placed an emphasis on gifts that are handmade. This means that our holiday experience is about arts, crafts, cooking, and baking, rather than just buying crap. I'm thankful that this is not a season of stress and anxiety for me, but rather one during which I take some time to sit down and meditate on my loved ones while manufacturing some little item that I think they might find amusing or tasty. Often, I'm inspired by things we're doing at school. One year, for instance, I made melted crayon sculptures, each one created from an entire 64-count box of crayons.

It's probably an aspect of human nature to want more, whatever the percentage. It reflects our urge to strive, the engine of our progress as a species: to reach higher, dig deeper, run faster, and see farther. So I don't want to sound like I'm sitting in judgement of anyone else's striving. One man's trash is another man's treasure and all that.

This morning, I awoke about an hour later than I normally do, but lay there in bed thinking it must be 3 a.m. We live downtown and on normal days when I awake there are the sounds of traffic, construction, and people laughing on the sidewalk, but today even the city is quiet. Everything is closed. Everyone is getting a little extra sleep. I'm thankful to have a day like this to set aside my striving and just be thankful.

While you're here at the bottom of this post, maybe you can think of someone who would like a copy of my new book for the holidays! Buying books isn't consumerism -- you can never buy too many books!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This Is Where Those Bedrock Character Traits Come From

Few things have put more wear and tear on my teeth than the entire concept of "teaching" character traits like "grit," "resilience," "optimism," "conscientiousness," and "self-control." It's not that those things aren't important. Indeed, they are vital not just for academic achievement, but for any kind of real, lasting success, be it in school, work, or just being a member of a family or community. No, what sets my teeth grinding is the self-satisfied way in which so-called education reformers, the ones with a product or agenda to sell, insist that they have figured out how to "teach" these things, even going so far as to produce pre-packaged curricula they claim will do this.

It's classic snake oil, based upon the faith-based notion that all these kids need are more lectures, more tests (yes, there are actually standardized tests now that purport to measure these noncognitive traits), and a vigorous system of rewards and punishments. It has been these Skinnerian notions that has lead to such things as zero-tolerance policies, No Child Left Behind, and other anti-child measures, none of which have worked in any way to move the needle on the holy grail of "academic achievement." It hasn't worked because what they are doing is not based upon science, but rather an ideology that comes right out of neoliberal economic theory -- the kind business executives, the very folks who are leading the charge to turn our schools into test score coal mines, tend to favor.

To underline this point, Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an economics professor at Harvard distributed nearly $10 million in cash incentives (e.g., rewards) to students in several US cities over the course of several years, with the idea of improving reading scores. These came in the form of cash, cell phones and other inducements just to read books and spend more time on their math homework. The results: "Students performed the tasks necessary to get paid, but their average math scores at the end of eight months hadn't changed at all . . . their reading scores . . . actually went down."

This quote is from an article by education author Paul Tough that appeared in The Atlantic entitled How Kids Really Succeed (they've changed the title in the online version) in which he contrasts actual brain research with current educational practices. It's a worthwhile read, especially the first half in which he discusses the impact of early childhood "toxic stress" on the ability to learn. What researchers are concluding is that the behaviorists are wrong, at least with regard to children:

". . . (W)e are mostly motivated not by the material consequences of our actions but by the inherent enjoyment and meaning that those actions bring us, a phenomenon called intrinsic motivation."

This brings a resounding, "Well, of course," from those of us who work with young children (emphasis mine).

(Researchers) identified three key human needs -- our need for competence, our need for autonomy, and our need for relatedness, meaning personal connection -- and they posited that intrinsic motivation can be sustained only when we feel the those needs are being satisfied.

Competence, autonomy, and personal connection: these are the building blocks of a play-based education where children are allowed to become competent by having the time and space to autonomously ask and answer their own questions within the context of a loving community. This is where those bedrock character traits come from. And it is why they will never emerge from the reward and punishment model of the neoliberal Skinnerians.

Sadly, when Tough asks the question, "So what do these academic environments look like?" (e.g., those that emphasize competence, autonomy, and personal connection) he answers it by going into traditional schools where teachers are using this research to manipulate kids into "learning" what adults have pre-determined is good for the kids, rather than what the kids themselves are driven to pursue, which means they might produce statistically significant improvements, but ones that are still marginal compared to the sort that would come from the kind of systemic change that brain (and psychological and anthropological and pedagogical) research tells us would transform the lives not just young children, but all of us.

The research tells us that we should set kids free to lead their own learning, but the policy-makers (and in that I include most of us as well) are still fixated on getting those damned orcas to jump just a little higher so that we adults can applaud ourselves.

And while you're here at the bottom of this post, maybe you can think of someone who would like a copy of my new book for the holidays!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Rule That Stands Above The Golden One

They tell me that the Golden Rule is the only one we need, that every major religion has some version of it embedded in its theology, and it's a good one, the most familiar iteration being, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But it's not the highest rule. In my book, that honor goes to a rule that the kids agreed to among themselves a few years back: "Don't do anything to anybody unless you ask them first."

The Golden Rule doesn't ask for consent, it just asks each individual to look inward and assume that others feel as we do, while the kids' rule caused us to turn our attentions outward and to consider that others might feel differently than we do. We lived with this agreement for the better part of the school year and it was enlightening when considered in view of the recent spat of celebrities and politicians being outed as habitual sexual harassers and worse. These are men, and it's mostly men, who may well have been adhering to the Golden Rule as they saw it, only doing to others what they themselves would want done to them. What's missing from their actions is consent and that's what makes it a crime.

The children's consent rule wasn't easy to enforce. Young children are forever bumping, tickling, hugging, pushing, and otherwise "doing" things to one another just in the natural flow of things. As the adult responsible for helping the children keep their agreements, I didn't feel it was my place to micro-manage these sorts of day-to-day interactions even if they did technically violate the rule of law. To do so would have meant repeatedly interrupting the children's play to remind them of their agreement to the point that there wouldn't have been much time left for the actual playing. Instead, I decided to let the kids self-manage the rule, only getting involved when a child invoked the rule of her own accord.

And they did, "Hey, you didn't ask me before you pushed me!"

"You didn't ask me if you could touch me!"

"You didn't ask me if you could sit beside me!"

"You didn't ask me if you could look at me!"

That's right, we did sometimes head down that road. Most of the time the kids invoked their rule appropriately, but we also sometimes took it too far. As the adult, it was easy to know what to do when it came to pushing. I was less confident about the unwanted touching. I had mixed feelings about children using the rule to control where people sat. And dictating where others cast their gaze was a bridge too far.

Needless to say, our consent rule created a gray area, and the only way to deal with it was through talking, sometimes lots of it, sometimes emotional. So that's what we did.

Lately, some of the older kids have been using the large dog crate on our playground as a kind of prison into which they put one another. They are playing "pets." Those put into the crate are animals that must be confined for their own "safety." The game involves lots of grabbing and wrestling as the pets are usually reluctant to be put in their cage. Watching this game as an adult is difficult. Children are "forcing" one another into a small, dark space, then barring the door with an old safety gate, holding it firmly in place while the children inside pretend to object, ultimately escaping before being chased down and returned to their prison. The game evokes so many nasty things for me, especially when it's boys forcing girls. It's a consensual game, yet the core of the game is pretending they don't consent. Particularly upsetting for me is that the captor will often say, "I have to put you in your cage to keep you safe," while shoving another child into the hole.

As they play, I've been staying nearby, waiting for that moment when I'm certain they will go too far, when someone will get frightened, when it will become too real and they want to withdraw their consent. We don't have the consent rule on the books this year, but we have agreed that if someone says "Stop!" you have to stop, which is a similar things. A couple times I've reminded kids, "Remember, if you don't like what's happening you can say Stop!" but so far they've just ignored me and continued about their game.

The truth is that none of them have asked for my help, either directly or indirectly. They are playing their unsavory-looking game quite happily, managing to keep it going for long stretches despite its intensity and potential for conflict, injury, and hurt feelings. In part, they are doing it by talking and listening, the pet owners continually informing their pets about what is coming next: "I'm going to grab you and put you back in your cage," "If you get away, I'm going to catch you and bring you back," "I can't let you get out, it's not safe." The pets in this game, as is true in real life, can't talk back, so their owners are forever peering into their faces, studying their expressions, looking, I think, for consent. They are forever holding onto their pets, studying their body language, feeling, I think, for consent. At least that's what it looks like they are doing as they play.

Over the course of the week, I gradually became more comfortable with the kids' game. Even as I continue to be bothered by the optics, I now see that it is, at its core, a game about consent, about children continually checking in with one another, not with the formality of asking permission, but by "reading" one another, continually, everyone turned outward, following a rule that stands above the golden one.

And while you're here at the bottom of this post, maybe you can think of someone who would like a copy of my new book for the holidays!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 20, 2017

All Wise People Change Their Minds

"Discovering truth will make me free." ~Mister Rogers

One of my mother's favorite sayings is "All wise people change their minds." One of my father's is "I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken."

I'd like to think of myself as a wise man, one who stands willing, should that be where the evidence leads me, to change my mind. Indeed, that is the kind of world I'd choose to live in, where people of goodwill come together in the spirit of democracy, respectfully laying out their arguments in the hues of logos, pathos, and ethos, then going home persuaded or not. Sadly, that's not how it works for me most of the time. More often than not I find myself clinging to my position until the bitter end, more interested in the moment with winning than discovering truth. If I'm going to change my mind, it's typically only later, often days or weeks later, after much hashing and re-hashing of things that I'm able to set my ego aside and accept the new truth.

To be honest, I've become pretty good at letting go when it comes to day-to-day things. I feel like I'm forever admitting my errors around the school because I deploy at least one, if not both, of my parents' proverbs daily. In fact, I tend to make something of a show of it, saying things like, "I was sure wrong about that!" or "You were right, I was wrong" or "You taught me something today!" I want the children to see me being the wise person, deferring to truth, even when it means admitting I was wrong, or perhaps especially when it means that.

The ability to allow oneself to be persuaded isn't one we talk about a lot, but if our grand experiment in self-government is going to work, it's a skill we must develop, even if it's a lot easier said than done. We've not evolved to be easily persuaded, even the youngest child, typically relying heavily upon emotional arguments, digs in her heels when confronted with inconvenient truths. Even the oldest pensioner resists truth that challenges what he already knows. We go through life knowing what we know, seeking out information that supports what we already know, and ignoring evidence to the contrary. It's called "confirmation bias." If democracy is going to work, however, we must learn to allow ourselves to be persuaded, and that involves taking the stance of a scientist: proving our theories about life, about what we "know," by trying to prove ourselves wrong, rather than right.

And when it comes to living in a democratic society, the way we do that is to listen to others, not listening to respond, but listening to understand. It's hard for people like me because I'm so conditioned to the need to "win" that I often can only listen in hindsight, days or weeks later, after much hashing and rehashing. But when I do finally come around, it's my responsibility to say so, to celebrate even, because, after all, all wise people change their minds.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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