Friday, November 30, 2018

Other People And Their Agendas

Marcus was working on a cardboard block tower. Lilyanna was helping.

They built it as high as they could, arriving at a point when they struggled to reach the top. It was really quite beautiful, these 2-year-olds spontaneously coming together in common cause like this, not talking, just doing. It takes a combination of concentration and speed to build something that tall, with another person, in a crowded classroom where everything is being continually jostled. But when they arrived at that point where their bodies were not tall enough to reach, their agenda's diverged. Marcus clearly wanted to pursue the challenge of continuing to make it even taller, while Lilyanna joyfully pretended to fall, intentionally pulling the building down with her, where she lay on the floor laughing as the blocks rained down on her.

Marcus reacted by lowering his eyebrows, appearing irritated and slightly aghast, I think not at Lilyanna, but rather, if I had to guess, at the lost opportunity. He'd perhaps been planning to find a chair or something else to stand on, to reach even higher. He then went back to rebuilding, with Lilyanna once more pitching in. They went through this full cycle six times, each go around reaching that point where their agendas diverged and the walls came tumbling down.

The general ethic of our classroom is that if you build it, only you can knock it down, but we don't really have a way to deal with this, when they build it together toward different purposes. I suppose I could have, after a couple repetitions, suggested that each child build her own building, but I didn't, mainly because Marcus didn't seem particularly upset (in fact, he appeared rather philosophical) and usually when young children repeat a play pattern over and over I interpret that as a sign that they are trying to learn something that is personally important.

It's impossible to have a judgement here, to side with one child or another. Each was pursuing his own perfectly legitimate, viable agenda. It was incredible when they merged, and that they merged for so long. Together, for a time, they built higher and faster than either could have alone. I even suspect that had Lilyanna been able to hold off just few minutes longer, those agendas would have re-converged and they could have knocked it down together, because that had often in the past been the destiny of Marcus' towers, but that is the way life with the other people sometimes works.

All human problems and all human glories result from the great truth that we go about our individual lives working our own unique agendas. From our first cries, using our only tool for connecting with the other humans, we seek out sensations, connections, and even objects that in some way satisfy those agendas, and we pursue them relentlessly. We have our conscious agendas and our unconscious agendas, overt and covert, ones we announce proudly and those we shamefully leave unspoken. And these agendas shape how we engage with the world. There are so many agendas working at so many purposes at any given time, that it seems a miracle that we ever get together on anything at all.

This is a big part of why we're in preschool, to learn to work our agendas together; to learn how to find where they match, because together we can do things that we can't alone, but also to learn how to deal with those inevitable times when they diverge and the building comes crashing down around us. 

There are some hard, complicated lessons to learn about agendas. There are times, of course, when we must stand and fight, but we also must learn to pick our battles. There are times when we must step aside. Sometimes we must conclude, as Marcus finally did, that we will not be able to complete our agenda today, and learn when to walk away, hopefully to return another day. Most often we need to talk, to compromise, to find a way to alter our agendas in order for them to imperfectly merge in order to achieve a kind of "second best" result that leaves all parties both satisfied and dissatisfied. And, naturally, the more people, the more agendas that must be included, the more difficult it gets. This whole business of living with the other people is an emotional tangle, full of pointy parts to navigate, made even more challenging as we begin to understand that those other people are navigating too. But as difficult as it is, it's important because it's exactly the process of picking our way through this jumble of agendas that teaches us empathy, which is just another complication in this complicated business.

Some days I have no idea how any towers ever get built in the world. It all seems so impossible.

Yet we keep doing it, throughout our lives, re-engaging in this difficult business of other people.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

How All Those Free And Motivated Minds Will Transform Our World

As our daughter Josephine approached school age we seriously considered homeschooling. Our three years of cooperative preschool had been wonderful, but as we stood at the threshold of kindergarten, I had a choice to make. Either I was going to send her off to school, with me staying behind to teach cooperative preschool or she was going to "stay home" with me and we would continue our educational journey shoulder-to-shoulder. I'd not yet become as radicalized about education as I am today, but even knowing what I know now, I'd have made the same decision.

We were, blessedly, a one-income family, which meant we were in a position to make this sort of choice. We had begun preschool when she was two, not out of a need for childcare, but rather because it was clear that Josephine had a stronger social drive than my own. Whereas I might be happy to spend a day puttering around the house, she insisted that we get out and "do something," even as a toddler, and for her, that meant finding some other kids with which to play. I know now that this was her educational instinct expressing itself.

Education, true education, can really only take place in the context of others, or as author Alfie Kohn writes, "marinated in community." As a fundamentally introverted person, the chore of cobbling together a child-centric social life for our daughter, making arrangements to meet people here or there, signing up for classes, and organizing outings began to weigh on me. The idea of a place to regularly go, where we would find people we recognized, where we could build community together, began to appeal to me because I knew it would appeal to Josephine while relieving me of that weight of social organizing. Not that long ago, during my own childhood even, extended families and more closely-knit neighborhoods largely filled this role, but we live in a world in which it is no longer acceptable (and in some places even illegal) to simply send one's child outside to play, for hours on end, with the children they find there. 

It still makes me sad to know that Josephine never had the experience of walking up and down the street knocking on doors to ask if Pheobe or Johnny could "come out to play," but our cooperative preschool, with its emphasis on play and community was a happy alternative, and she dug right in, every day, working, working, working on her relationships with the children and adults she found there. For our family, the idea of homeschooling or unschooling, would have been a kind of hardship to both Josephine, who to this day is driven to get out there and mix it up with the other people, and me, who would spend my days, if left to my own devices, puttering in my jammies.

In other words, I never felt either of us needed school for the "academic" learning -- I'd long ago witnessed that literacy and numeracy and the absorption of scientific and other facts emerged as she was ready for them -- but rather for the opportunity to engage in community. This is why I've never once, in all her years of "real" school, asked a teacher a question about her grades, test scores, or transcript. I've listened to teachers tell me about these things, but when it came my turn to talk, I've always asked some version of the questions, "How does she treat her friends?" and "How do they treat her?" This is why we sent her to school.

There is so much talk about school "reform," from all points of view, but as author Ken Robinson writes, we would be better served to be talking about "transformation." For many, this transformation involves getting rid of schools altogether, and maybe they're right. But from where I sit we will still need something like schools to replace them: places where children of all ages can come together and practice the skills of building community, to develop the habits of cooperation, to work with others, to be sociable, and to learn to walk the balance between personal freedom and honoring the agreements we make with one another. In other words, to practice the skills and habits of what I think of as deep democracy.

The children at Woodland Park make their own rules, by consensus. Several years ago, my friend Henry was walking around the classroom with his hands over his head, palms forward, wiggling his fingers rapidly. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I'm the police." His hands were the flashing patrol car lights.

I asked, "Oh, so you're giving people tickets and stuff?"

"No," he answered, "I'm reminding them when they're breaking the rules." And sure enough, he was sidling up to his classmates and saying things like, "I want to remind you, we all agreed, no running inside," and "I want to remind you, we all agreed, no hitting." And his friends were thanking him. This is what I mean by deep democracy: not the superficial winner-take-all horse race of modern electoral politics, but the notion that free and equal humans are fully capable of self-governance, of making agreements with one another, then abiding by them. That really is the core of community: our agreements are sacred.

Children naturally understand deep democracy. Most adults have unlearned it even while we honestly believe we are the beacons of fairness. For instance, our playground has only two swings over which there are regular debates. When adults get involved the solution is invariably some version of enforced turn-taking, usually with a timer set to strictly limit each child's turn in the name of "fairness," leaving no one entirely satisfied. When children are left to their own devices, however, as we were as children, when not imposed from on high, our agreements, more often than not, result in mutual satisfaction.

Sometimes the children will decide to share the swing, cramming two, three or four kids onto a single seat. Indeed, at Woodland Park, this solution has evolved into hanging a plank of wood between the two swings, creating a kind of bench swing upon which as many as a dozen kids can swing at once.

Sometimes it turns into a game in which two children will alternate on their own, counting together to 10 or 20, a solution that fundamentally differs from the adult version in that it's a game they play together rather than one child standing sulkily by as a grown-up keeps an eye on her watch.

Sometimes children push one another, taking on different, but equal roles. And often they come up with complex agreements that become games unto themselves, like the time our 4-5 year olds developed a system by which one had to ask for a turn three times in succession, wording the question precisely each time, or, like a magic lock, it didn't work.

And always, over time and with the freedom to practice, the ethic emerges that when you find someone already using the swing you want, you simply call, "Next!" much the way children call "Shotgun!" to determine who gets to sit beside the driver in the car. This is deep democracy. "Next!" is sacred, so sacred that when the child on the swing is finished, he usually seeks out the rightful next in line, even if he has gone on to other things. 

Deep democracy is what happens when we agree to have a "pinecone fight," as we often did in my youth, all of us knowing without adult commands, that tacit in this agreement is the idea that no one wants to get hurt, so heads and faces are off limits, that one throws more gently at close range, that if someone starts to cry the game is on hold until that cry is over. Adults tend to muck this up by simply banning the game altogether, giving no one a chance to learn anything.

Deep democracy is what happens when the 10-year-old pitcher gently tosses the ball to the five-year-old batter instead of trying to strike him out because the unspoken agreement is to have fun, not win or lose. No one has to tell him to do that if he's had the opportunity to practice the skills and habits of community.

Deep democracy happens when children come together each day, girls and boys, friends and foes, with minimal adult interference and maximal freedom to play.

I commend and admire those of you who have managed this sort of deeply democratic educational experience through homeschooling and unschooling, but for most of us, we need schools, or something like schools. True play-based preschools and democratic free schools, to me, are the best models we currently have for what's possible when the transformation comes. And it will come, not only because is it the right thing for education and for children, but because it is ultimately in the direction of morality. As Martin Luther King famously said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," which is ultimately what deep democracy is all about.

I invite you to imagine for a moment "schools" in which children are free to discover and pursue their passions while marinated in community. Imagine that transformation, then imagine how all those free and motivated minds will transform our world.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"It Is A Dirt Shovel

The two-year-olds made a mysterious discovery. There on the table at the top of the hill was a shovel made of dirt. It looked just like one of the small shovels we use in the sandpit, except that instead of being made of colorful plastic, it was made from dirt.

"It's a shovel. Look, right here." She used her finger to trace the shape in the air above the dirt shovel, not touching it. Her classmates gathered around, likewise not touching it. They studied it in silence for a time, then one of them reached out and attempted to grab the handle, concluding, "I can't pick it up."

No one speculated about where it had come from. I was tempted to ask leading questions, to compare it to one of the actual shovels that had obviously been its template, or to otherwise guide them toward an answer I wanted them to find. Instead, which is usually the better course of action, I remained silent, leaving them with their mystery. We all remained there together for what seemed like at least a couple minutes.

"It's not a shovel," said a boy, one half of a pair of identical twins.

"It is a shovel," replied the girl who had first discovered it.

They were not arguing, but rather each voicing their unique perceptions of reality, framing a question that no one had yet asked. The rest continued to contemplate the mystery. The girl once more traced the dirt shovel's outline with her finger in the air as if confirming things for herself or perhaps for the others.

Finally, the twin said, "It is a dirt shovel."

Whether or not this settled the matter, I'll never know; mysteries are often not things that can be settled in a moment. But whatever the case, the spell was broken and interest was apparently lost. I was sitting on the edge of the table slightly to the side of the shovel outline. They formed a kind of semi-circle around me.

I gave in to my temptation a bit then, echoing what the twin had said by way of putting a little bow on things, "E- said it's a dirt shovel."

He looked at me for a moment, then at his twin brother. "I not E-," he corrected me, "I N- . . . " Then pointing to his brother, "He not N-." Then thoughtfully, as if talking his way toward an epiphany, he pointed to the dirt shovel, "Not a shovel." He looked around, searching, then walked purposefully away, returning with an actual shovel. "Shovel," he said. He pointed to the dirt outline, "Not shovel." The other children seemed to be following his reasoning, thinking their own thoughts. "I not E-" he said as if to himself, "I N-."

The girl who had discovered the dirt shovel, then piped up, pointing at the brother, "He's not N- . . . He's E-."

Then another girl said, pointing at the shovel N- held in his fist, "That's a shovel," then pointing at the outline, "That's a dirt shovel."

We remained silent for a long moment, together with our mysteries, then went our separate ways.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Head Shaking Doesn't Count

Nearly four months after a federal judge ordered the current administration to reunite migrant children with their families there are still dozens of children suffering alone, without their parents, in concentration camps and tent cities. Over the weekend, we learned from a former Department of Homeland Security official that the administration never intended to reunite any of the hundreds of children ripped from their parents' arms and locked, literally, in cages. They didn't even keep records.

And then on Sunday, they ordered an attack on legal asylum seekers along the Mexican border, using tear gas, including on very young children, an action that probably violates international law.

The entire world is condemning the actions, and well they should. It is a moral and criminal outrage being committed in the name of all Americans. There is a humanitarian crisis of crime and poverty driving these people to our border. They are coming to this supposedly "Christian nation" begging for our help, and these monsters, and their behavior in our name is monstrous, are responding with kidnapping, imprisonment, and tear gas.

Every decent person should be outraged. The sickest part is that these evil actions are being done for purely political reasons. The monster in charge thinks this is a way to win elections, and to the degree that it works, is the degree to which we the people are to blame. The monster in charge wants his wall of ignorance, and he seems to believe that creating the appearance of chaos at the border, no matter what the human cost, will help him get what he wants. When he was at first confronted by the facts, he lied about the use of tear gas. Then he lied and said it wasn't used on children. Then he lied yet again and said it was a "minor form" of tear gas. His entire administration has lied about the treatment of families and children at our border since the very beginning. And it goes beyond lies: their behavior is criminal.

Future generations will condemn us. They will ask what we did and why we allowed it to happen. Sitting at your computer shaking your head is not enough. Every decent person must speak up. Call and write your representatives, talk to your colleagues, friends and family, show up at protests and rallies. When the story of our era is written, those who remained silent will be included among the evil-doers. Head shaking doesn't count.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

I'd Rather It Not Happen, But It Does

The city of Seattle is experimenting with city bikes. Over the course of the last year or so, our sidewalks have become home to hundreds of brightly painted bicycles that one can rent using an app on your smart phone. Theoretically, you can find them anywhere and leave them wherever you happen to be when you're finished. These bikes are owned by for-profit companies, but I first learned of the concept when my wife and I lived in Europe. The way I heard the story is that the city of Amsterdam, decades ago, interested in curtailing automobile traffic within the city, flooded the streets with simple, one-speed bicycles, free for use by anyone. Within weeks, they were all destroyed or stolen. They then flooded the streets with another wave of bikes, which suffered a similar fate. They persevered, however, continuing to introduce new bikes until, over time, the novelty wore off and their value was reduced to the point that they were no longer attractive to vandals and thieves.

I don't know if the bikes in Seattle are being stolen, but they certainly have been vandalized. Everywhere I go, I'm stepping around bikes that have been purposely knocked over. Sometimes I find them with their fenders torn off or their handle bars askew. Of course, some of this could be accidental, but most of it is pure vandalism and my prejudice is that it is mostly the work of young men.

Every now and then, a kid, almost always a boy, will race about the playground upending things: chairs, ladders, buckets, wagons, you name it. There can be any number of reasons for the behavior, including being both over and under stimulated. Sometimes it's done more as a prank, as cheekiness, as a way to make one another laugh. Sometimes there seems to be actual anger or even malice in their actions. The other day, a boy was pretending to be a Transformer named Bumblebee who, apparently, knocks lots of things over as he moves about the world. More often than not, however, I will never have a clue about the reasons because I don't see it happen. I'm left to speculate as I follow their trail of destruction setting things to rights, just as I often do with the bicycles upended on the sidewalk.

Of course, vandalism committed by adults is different than the acts we see on playgrounds, if only because "they ought to know better," but the urge seems similar, especially when it comes to relatively harmless activities like knocking over a bike. For some children, some of the time, the urge to "destroy" is at least as strong as the urge to create, and there are times when these two competitive urges seem to be one and the same.

I'm sometimes tempted to follow these kids around the place, scolding them in an effort to "teach" them about respecting property, and I do when it's happening indoors, but when we're outside, I usually ignore it unless someone is in physical danger. I don't exactly know why, but that seems like the right thing to do. I've traveled enough to know that vandalism is not confined to US cities. There is graffiti everywhere. There are broken windows everywhere. I reckon it's an urge that doesn't disappear entirely with age and experience, and we know what happens with repressed urges. I'd rather it not happen, but it does.

I speculate that this urge emerges from human evolution, that seemingly purposeless destruction is somehow connected to our drive to explore, to experiment, and to express. I sometimes wonder if it is, at least in part, a reaction to the fundamental irrationality of personal property, which is a relatively new human invention when it comes to the full span of our existence as a species, a concept that is not found anywhere else in the animal kingdom. Whatever the case, my hope is that by tolerating it at a certain level, I'm giving children the opportunity to examine this urge in a safe and loving environment. I'd rather it not happen, but it does, and anything that is human must be included in our education.

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Becoming And Being

It is both a fact of physics and metaphysics that we are always in a state of becoming. Indeed, the entire world, as we perceive it, is in that state, while simultaneously, and paradoxically, we also always exist in a state of being. Becoming and being exist for us in every moment, they are our constant companions and no matter how hard we try, we have no control over the facts of either. This becoming and being is what each of us are are, right now.

On this lazy day after Thanksgiving, I've been reflecting on these words from Mister Rogers:

There are many times that I wish I had heard that "just who you are at this moment, with the way that you're feeling is fine. You don't have to be anything more than who you are right now." I'd like to think it's also something that's happened to me through the years, that I'm more able to accept myself as I happen to be, rather than as somebody thought I should be.

Love does not seek to change or correct or manage, but rather to accept and help others to achieve, in this moment, their highest potential, not as others define it, but as they do. And this goes for self love as well. It's easy to fall into the trap of being dissatisfied with ourselves or others, to think, "If I could only . . ." or "If they would only . . ." But it's not until we can accept ourselves and others for who we or they are, right now, that love can exist.

Each person in the world is a unique human being, and each has unique human potential. One of the important tasks of growing is the discovery of this uniqueness: the discovery of "who I am" in each of us -- of "who I am" in relation to all those whom I meet.

This doesn't mean that we don't strive to become better selves, only that growth cannot happen, or uniqueness cannot be discovered, until we first radically accept who we are, and equally important, who they are. Because we don't grow alone: our highest potential can only be achieved together.

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

I'm The Luckiest Man Alive

I am thankful, first of all, for my family: my wife, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, in laws, and all those other people connected to me through marriage and blood who love and support me. I'm nothing without them.

I'm thankful too for the families of Woodland Park. Sometimes it doesn't seem fair that I get paid to be surrounded by so much love. These people bless me simply by allowing me to stand with them at the center of it day after day.

I'm thankful they support me in teaching the way I do, that they enter with me each day into the ongoing experiment of education, shoulder to shoulder, my bosses, my colleagues, my assistants, and my friends. I'm thankful for what we've built together and for what we continue to build together. We're a small school, now serving some 65 kids, but as a cooperative, that number must be multiplied by at least 3, when you consider the parents, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, and the other special grown-ups who week in and week out make our school run the way it does. Without all of us together it's not Woodland Park; each one absolutely essential. And the best part is that all of us are doing it for the exact same reason: love.

I often say that this is how all schools should be, and when people explain to me why that's impossible, I leave my thoughts unspoken: Still, this is still how all schools should be.

What an incredible blessing it is for me to work in a place like this. It's not only, or even mostly, the children or the playing or whatever notoriety I've gained through this blog that makes me commute to Fremont each morning in the dark and rain. It's the love. I know when I open those doors each morning, no matter how much I've had to strain and scramble to be ready, no matter what dark cloud plagues me, that I'm letting in the sun and the air, love embodied, the children, the mamas, the papas, the omas and the opas, everyone of them arriving with their hearts full. And when they pack themselves up at the end of the day, I'm thankful that they are so full to overflowing that there's plenty left behind to warm me as I stand alone in the silence for a moment to reflect on how I'm the luckiest man alive.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blood Clots

What Homer Simpson said about beer could also apply to money: ". . . it's the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." Yes, it's a human invention of great convenience, but it's also the source of much pain and suffering. Whenever I complain in public about money, say to bemoan income inequality or to point out that it is the root of all evil, there is bound to be someone to reply, often smugly, that money is not to blame and to do so is the equivalent of cursing the blood spurting from a puncture wound. Money, they tell me, is meant to flow through the economy like blood does through our bodies, carrying with it the nutrients and oxygen necessary for the health of our economy.

If that's true, and for the sake of this argument I will stipulate to the aptness of the metaphor, then what are billionaires if not blood clots that have formed inside the body of our economy, dramatically slowing or even stopping the flow of "blood" altogether? I mean, our economy is producing billionaires at a rate never before seen, while at the same time creating poverty at near record levels as well. This is why blood clots inside the body, especially in the legs, lungs, or brain, require immediate medical attention.

Of course, billionaires don't tend to see themselves that way. In my life, I've had the opportunity to get to know four of them, and three of those four consider themselves to be humanitarians, people of great ability and even greater intelligence who amassed their hoard by the sweat of their own brows and who are now surveying the world for problems upon which to exercise their brilliance. I did not find any of them to be particularly brilliant, but I did, like the rest of the world, listen attentively to their thoughts and ideas because, being billionaires, they actually have the wherewithal to act upon them. That's why people listen to billionaires: not because of their "genius," but because of their money, and time and again they let us down, because to turn to them to solve our problems is a lot like expecting a blood clot to fix itself.

The example that hits closest to home, of course, is how billionaires continue to muck up public education. I have frequently written about how Bill Gates (second wealthiest American), through his foundation, almost single-handedly inflicted the deeply flawed, doomed-to-fail Common Core federal curriculum on our children, causing trillions in taxpayer money to be diverted into his hobby horse, only to have him finally shrug at his failed "experiment" that has treated a generation of children as drill-and-kill guinea pigs. I recently wrote about Mark Zuckerberg's (third wealthiest American) disastrous "Summit Learning" curriculum that is so de-humanizing that children are walking out of their classes. I've also written the pernicious plans of the Koch brothers (fifth and sixth wealthiest Americans) with regards to privatizing and re-segregating our schools. And now Jeff Bezos (the wealthiest American) is pledging $2 billion to be spent on preschool education, a plan that gives me little hope and lots of anxiety.

I'm not saying their hearts aren't in the right place. I don't think they set out to do evil, but their ignorance combines with their obscene wealth to cause far more problems than they set out to solve. I'm also not saying that public education can't be improved, indeed that is the subject of most of what I've written about here since 2009, but our problems won't be solved by dilettantes no matter how well-intended or wealthy. Professional educators, on the other hand, know exactly what needs to be fixed about our schools, yet appallingly, we are the last ones to which these billionaires, and the policy-makers who they keep within their thrall, listen. So it all continues to be a senseless churn of time and money, destined to fail, with a seemingly endless queue of billionaires waiting to step up to offer the rest of us their brilliance, which is at bottom, the brilliance of a hoarder in a house stacked with magazines. And meanwhile, our children suffer.

With Gates and the Koch brothers in decline, Zuckerberg and Bezos have stepped into the breach, and billions more will be wasted in their cruel experiments. I wish they would just pay their damn taxes, get out of the way, and let the professionals do their jobs.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Children Are The Makers Of Men"

I was riding the light rail home from the airport. A father and his son, who looked to be about five, boarded the train together. The father was immediately drawn into a conversation with a fellow passenger, while the boy, as young children do, began to make a study of the world around him. He started with the other passengers, including me, staring at each of us a bit too long as he thought his thoughts about us, then moved on to the train itself and the view outside the window.

At one point, he interrupted his father excitedly, "I think the airport is close to here!"

Dad paused in his conversation a moment to gently disabuse his son of the notion, saying, "The airport is father south. Now we're near Safeco Field." He then returned to his adult conversation. I followed the boy's eyes as he looked above the exit door, his lips moving slightly.

Moments later, the boy interrupted again, "Are we at the stadium?"

His father answered distractedly, "Yes, Safeco field is the baseball stadium."

The boy was attempting to make sense of the train map posted over the door. After a few moments of silent study he asked, "Are we going to Sodo?"

"No, we're getting off in the International District."

There was another beat of silence before the boy virtually shouted, "That's the next stop!"

This got his father's full attention, "That's right! How did you know that?"

"I read it up there," the boy answered, pointing.

"When did you learn how to read?"

The boy shrugged, then said, "Did you know that someone could ride this train all the way from the airport to the University of Washington?"

Children are always studying their world, of course, and if not the external one, then the internal one of their own emotions. We are born to be scientists, explorers, discoverers, piecing together clues and cues from the world around us, connecting what we observe, hear, feel, or intuit with what we already know to create brand new knowledge, underpinned by the old, just as this child had noodled through the symbols above the door of the train to make sense of his current place in the world and the potential for going new places. It was a door he had opened for himself and it clearly excited him.

Too many of us dismiss or ignore young children's capacity for teaching themselves through their own curiosity, falsely believing that only we grown-ups can tell them where to look. How will they ever learn to read if I don't teach them? How will they ever learn to cipher if I don't drill them? How will they know what's important unless I tell them? It's the kind of hubris that leads to the drill-and-kill model of education, the one in which adults drive and cajole children through subject matter about which they may or (in most cases) may not have a curiosity. It's the kind of hubris that leads our leaders to opine that we must educate our young for those "jobs of tomorrow," those fantastical cogs in the economic wheel that may exist today, but will be on the scrap heap of history by the time our preschoolers are looking for meaningful employment.

Indeed, adults have no idea what specific skills will be required in the future: only the children know that because, in a very real sense, it will be those young scientists, explorers, and discoverers who will create those jobs of tomorrow, not we adults who, by the time the future arrives, brought to us by our very own children, will be in our retirement homes complaining that the world has passed us by. It's the children themselves, not the adults, who know what they need to know to get from here to there. As the great Maria Montessori wrote, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men."

As we approached the International District station, the boy on the train was quietly reading off the names of each station along the line, not to show off for his father who had gone back to his conversation, but rather by way of proving it to himself, for himself, in preparation for the future he himself will create. This is his world and he is a maker of men.

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