Monday, December 11, 2017


It would be an exaggeration to say that I could count all the meetings I'd attended by the time I was 19 years old on one hand, but not by a lot. I mean, there were those Cub Scout pack meetings where we sat in the church pews and our baseball coaches often called it a "team meeting" when they sat us down in centerfield to lecture at us, but those weren't meetings as I came to know them as an adult. We might have called them "meetings," but they were generally just one-way streets with adults standing in front of us lecturing.

In other words, these "meetings" were more or less like school where we had all been taught to sit in our assigned seats, to only speak when questioned, and only then if our raised hands were selected. We were chastised for whispering, passing notes, cracking jokes, or getting up from our seats out of turn. We were even expected to ask permission to go to the toilet. Things loosened up a little in high school -- as I recall there were no assigned seats, for instance -- but generally speaking this was the nature of "meetings" up until, suddenly, we were out in the world where the "skills" we had worked so hard on developing over the course of the better part of two decades were made moot by reality.

In adult meetings, there are no assigned seats and people whisper, pass notes, and crack jokes all the time. We leave our seats to go to the toilet, to get a coffee refill, or to run any number of other small "errands," including just pacing around in the back of the room when our legs start to cramp up. Heck, some people don't sit at all, instead choosing to lean against a wall, while others might, in more informal settings, opt to sit on the floor. Most of the time we forgo hand raising altogether with folks chiming in as necessary, like in a conversation, but even when the group is large enough that we need to raise our hands it's simply as a tool for making sure everyone get to speak and be heard rather than as crowd control.

On Friday, I wrote about how we too often expect more out of children than we expect from ourselves and this is another of those instances. The only time during our school day that we expect all the children to convene is at circle time, our daily classroom meeting: 15-30 minutes typically during which we come together and practice being in a group, raising our voices together, engaging in discussion, making decisions, telling stories. I know there are some play-based educators who treat these meetings as optional, but for us they form the backbone of our small democratic society. We do tend to raise hands, but not always, only when there are so many voices trying to be heard that we need a way to take turns. There are no assigned seats. Children can sit, kneel, or lie down. If they want to stand, we have designated the back of the room so as to avoid blocking the views of others. We practice whispering should we have something to say to a friend. No one has to ask permission to use the toilet. In other words, we run our circle time like the meetings I attend as an adult, including setting the agenda.

I know that most of them will move on to more traditional schools, places where they will be expected to behave in ways that are rarely found outside of schools and it's possible that their teachers will struggle with these kids who have grown accustomed to democracy, but I have no interest in preparing them for that. My job isn't to prepare children for school, but rather for life, and I will not hold children to standards that I don't live up to myself.

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