Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Let's Play Cage Ball"

"Let's play ball." He was kicking the half deflated yoga ball that has turned up on our playground and was inviting me to join him.

Moments before, a classmate had asked me to play a game with him and was still standing at my knee. I answered, "I don't want to play right now, but I know someone who does," indicating the boy standing beside me.

"Why don't you want to play?"

"Because I have work to do."

"What work?"

"Standing here watching you two play ball."

They both gave me looks of bafflement, then agreed to play ball together.

It was a busy part of the playground, so I suggested they would have more room if they moved farther up the hill, an idea they found worthy. When they got about halfway to their destination taking turns kicking the ball, one of them had the idea of rolling it into our playground dog crate, squeezing himself in beside it. The boy and the ball took up most of the space. He said, "I have an idea. Let's play cage ball."

His friend needed no further explanation as he wedged himself into the only space left. The cage was full. They had attracted the attention of a couple other kids who wanted to play cage ball too. A girl tried to make room in the cage for herself, pushing and wiggling. Inevitably, one of the boys said, "Hey, you're hurting me!"

She responded instantly, giving up her attempt. She saw a face that was about to cry and quickly said, "I'm sorry." There was a moment during which the offended boy seemed to consider whether or not to accept the apology before he said, "That's okay, it didn't hurt."

Having witnessed this, the handful of children left on the outside decided that their role in the cage ball game was to climb atop the crate and, alternatively, play the sides and roof like a bongo drum. It was a game enjoyed by all for quite some time. I was completely forgotten, left to do my job of standing there watching them play.

This is why we come to school, to practice the skills and develop the habits of playing with the other people, creating and taking part in a community of equals. This is the fundamental trait of a good citizen in a democratic society: working well with others, getting along with others, finding ways to contribute that serve both the individual and the wider society. This is the reason we value the development of social-emotional skills in young children, because they are the skills of community. It's why we come to school. The rest can come later, as needed, but this is what makes life worthy of its name: playing cage ball with the other people.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"You Hit Me! I'm Not Going To Play With You Anymore!"

He sometimes forgets himself in the midst of his play and occasionally, like many kids, goes so far as to hit or push when things don't go his way. There was a time when he might have intended to hurt the other people, but these days he pulls his punches, so to speak, as if regretting his actions even as he's engaged in them. In other words, he isn't really hurting the other children physically, even as his actions might suggest otherwise, but many of them feel violated nevertheless, as well they should.

We adults try to stay on top of things, to sufficiently intervene, but my focus has been to turn the responsibility of discussing these behaviors over to the children themselves, especially since no one is in any real physical danger. When a dry-eyed child comes to me to inform me that they've been hit, for instance, by this boy or anyone, I inquire after specifics then instead of marching over to correct things by scolding or "reminding," I instead coach up the offended party by offering ideas of what they could do or say:

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I didn't like it when he hit me."

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I'm not a poopy head and it hurt my feelings when he said it."

"If I were you, I'd tell him that I'm mad at him for taking my shovel."

The idea is to get the kids in the habit of talking to one another first; to practice resolving their own conflicts, and to try to rely upon the adults only as a last resort. I'm always there if necessary, but learning to stand up for oneself is vital and the only way one learns that is through doing it. Not only that, but for many children, especially older preschoolers with a strong social bent, hearing these things from peers is much more impactful than from an adult.

Yesterday, a girl with whom this boy regularly plays shouted at him, "You hit me. I'm not going to play with you anymore!" Then she marched off. I was not too far away, but neither of them so much as looked my direction. As he watched her walk off, I saw him fighting back tears. After a few minutes he chased after her. They were too far from me to hear what he said, but I did hear her response, "You hit me! I don't want to play with you anymore!" He dropped to the ground right there, overwhelmed with remorse in a way that never happens when we adults are involved. Sometimes we must step in, but when we do, one of the risks is that we shift attention away from where it ought to be, the hitting and its consequences, and turn it on ourselves, the authority figure stepping in to insist upon compliance. In this case, he was left face-to-face with his remorse.

I don't know if he ever apologized, but by the end of the day she had forgiven him. I know this because I saw them once more playing intimately with one another, friends again.

The metaphor that comes to mind is the one of the parent teaching her child to ride a bike. At first we help them balance, then as they start to get the feel of it, we start letting go. Sometimes they fall, but over time, with practice, they begin to ride all on their own.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Love With Both Hands

Several times a day, our dog Stella will insistent upon my attention. If I try to scratch her ears absently, while continuing to scroll through my Twitter feed for instance, she'll use her nose to commandeer my hands. She wants both hands; she wants my full attention because that's the way love works.

I often think that the domesticated dog is among the greatest of human creations. We've bred them for many purposes, of course, but at bottom, they exist for one reason and one reason only: to love.

That, at least, has been the priority of every dog with which I've ever lived. Sure, there are treats and walks and romps with playmates, but expressing love has always come first. This is why it's so tragic when a dog is abused: they continue to love, even when the object of their love is, to our minds, undeserving.

There are times when it's annoying or inconvenient, when we brush our dogs away in our preoccupation, but we do so at our own peril. I sometimes feel that Stella thinks I'm a hopeless pupil, unable to grasp the simple, undeniable concept of love first. She persists even when I grumble at her. Indeed, it's when I'm at my most irritable and distracted that she makes her move, cautiously perhaps, ears and tail down, braving my mood in order to shove her head onto my lap as if to say: Let me show you the way. And she's right, I know she's right, there is nothing more important, nothing better, than this, and the moment I relent I realize that she is right. Of course, we love our partners, our children, our family, and friends. We may even love all of humanity and the entirety of creation, but unless we express it and often, that love is meaningless.

As the French proverb goes: "It is not enough to love; one must say it."

At the end of the day, I crawl into bed tired, ready for the distraction of a novel or a movie, but first Stella demands my undivided attention. She curls into me, licking my hands, my face. If I'm stroking her with one hand, she uses her paws to let me know that I must use my other hand has well. And then, once she has the all of me, she reaches out to my wife, pawing at her arms, drawing her in, insisting for the good of everyone everywhere that we take the time to really love, fully, with both hands.

Our children are born with this wisdom as well, of course, living, breathing reminders that if love doesn't come first, then maybe it isn't love at all. I think, however, that we too often don't heed their message, especially as they move beyond the first months of life. We start to develop agendas for them, expecting them to walk and talk and toilet and dress themselves and go off to a good college, ignoring the greater wisdom they come into our lives to impart. There are times when it's annoying or inconvenient, but they are not just trying to get our attention: they are seeking to express their love and they are insisting that you express yours as well, with both hands.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Until Our Sense Of Responsibility Gets Us Out Of Bed

Most kids I've known, most days, are eager to come to school, but some kids drag their feet every day and all of them have mornings when they would rather not. I get it and I don't take it personally. After all, I love my job, but I'm not always a happy camper about getting dressed and getting out the door either.

It's typically not about school, but rather about the transition. We've all known kids who struggle with transitions and it isn't really something we necessarily outgrow. I mean, that's what Monday mornings are all about, right? Or returning from vacations. On the final night of this most recent winter holiday break, I found myself wishing for just one more day and I have the best job in the world.

Children have their adults to push back against and they do. They don't want to transition from the playground to go back home, they don't want to leave home to go to school, and nearly every day I hear kids whining at their parents that they don't want to leave school, even as their mother's are telling them that their next stop is the playground. As adults, there is typically no one but ourselves to push back against, so we play games like hitting the snooze alarm, but ultimately it's our sense of responsibility rather than another person's scolding that gets us out of bed.

We all want our kids to be the sort who jump out of bed, dress themselves, make short work of breakfast and are waiting at the door in plenty of time, but it's not in human nature to be eager to stop having fun in order to have fun. Indeed, one could argue that a strong resistance to transitions is part and parcel with feeling contented with how things are right now, which is a state of enlightenment. For instance, I love when I tell the kids that I'm thinking of banging the drum (our signal for transitions) and they call out for "five more minutes!" It means they are fully engaged. By the same token, I often feel like a bit of a failure when a kid prompts me, "Can you bang the drum now?"

Life is a series of transitions. Rarely are we in a position to let it just flow from one thing to the next, so all of us, whatever our natural temperament regarding transitions, learns our own way to handle them. And young children, more often than not, start by targeting the obvious "villain," which is the adult who is telling her she must move on, which then turns into a power struggle that leaves no one feeling happy. If our goal is to give our kids the opportunity to develop their own sense of responsibility about life's necessary transitions, then it's important that we work to take the focus away from "mean mommy" and onto the schedule itself.

Many parents find it useful to, in non-transitional moments, talk to their children in advance about the transitions they can expect in the coming hours, days or even weeks, depending on their age, and then regularly remind them of the full schedule, including the unscheduled parts, throughout the day. All of us tend to do better when we know what to expect because it gives us the opportunity to prepare ourselves and develop our own philosophical approach to moving on from one thing to the next. Perhaps most importantly it allows children to begin to see that it's not mommy or daddy, but rather the schedule that makes the transition necessary.

And until we have the revolution, that's the way it's going to be. In the meantime, we learn our schedules, acknowledge our emotions, and hit the snooze alarm until our sense of responsibility gets us out of bed.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

"Houses For People"

I had an agenda. In fact, I've found it's almost impossible to not have some sort of agenda for our preschool days, even if it's just an idea about how the kids will engage, say, the art supplies or sensory table materials. It's okay for adults to have an agenda. The trouble comes when we don't set it aside the moment the children show us their better one.

My agenda was that I thought that after a weekend of marches (Women's, MLK), the kids might enjoy staging marches of their own. I supplied tag board, markers, craft sticks, and masking tape, then as the kids gathered around I explained what I was doing while making a sample sign. Not wanting to force my agenda on them, I didn't talk about what they should do, but rather I talked about what I was doing, offering it as an idea rather than an instruction. "This is my sign for the march. It says, 'More Love.'"

A handful of kids said they wanted to make signs too. These were three-year-olds. A few of them are beginning to form letters, again, not according to my agenda, but their own. Most made scribbles or drew simple pictures, then taped their sticks on the way I had done. Once we had a handful of signs made, I expressed my own agenda again, "Now I'm going to march." Several of the kids said they were going to march too.

We started up the hill, I chanted the way people do at marches, "More love . . . More love . . . More love . . ." The kids joined me, chanting and waving their signs. When we got to the top of the hill, the kids started talking about their signs:

"Mine says my name."

"Mine says, 'I like foxes.'"

"Mine says, 'Stop.'"

So we took turns march up and down the hill, chanting in favor of one another's signs. Other children joined us. One them told us that her sign said, "No hitting," one of the rules to which we have all agreed. Then we started working our way down our list of agreements, marching first against hitting, then against taking things from other people, then against pushing, then against pinching. It was a thrill for me, not just because the kids seemed to have taken my idea and made it their own, but because some of them seemed to be genuinely understanding this important democratic concept: the idea that sometimes we need to take matters into the streets. The boy with the "Stop" sign even acted as a sort of counter protester, meeting us along the way with his command for us to "Stop!" which caused us to pause for a moment before continuing about our business.

We weren't exclusively against things. We staged one march in favor of "More candy," for instance, and another for "More Peace." Actually, I had suggested the slogan "No candy, no peace," as an echo of the standard chant of "No justice, no peace," but the kids thought their idea was better: "More candy, more peace."

It went so well that I made the same materials available for the older kids when they arrive in the afternoon, again role modeling the making of a sign. More of these children are able form letters and others dictated their slogans to adults. Then we marched, chanting our slogans.

At one point as we worked on our signs we began to discuss homelessness, a topic that comes up fairly regularly at our urban school in a city that is home of dozens of tent encampments, one only a couple blocks away. A girl suggested that we march with the chant of "Houses for people." As we marched, she said to me, "We shouldn't just march around the playground." She pointed toward the gate, "We should march out there where people would hear us. Then maybe they would build real houses for people."

They had made it their own. They had made it our own.

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

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Using Just The Right Amount

During my first year teaching preschool, I was appalled at the amount of glue kids were squirting from our little Nancy bottles. It just seemed so wasteful. Committed to not bossing kids around, I tried using informative statements like, "That's a lot of glue," "It only takes a dot of glue to hold a googly eye," and even the usually more powerful, "I think that's too much," but to no avail. I attempted role modeling and narrating my own "proper" glue usage with similar results. I even purchased new bottles, snipping the tips to create extra tiny holes in the hopes of limiting the flow. The kids just handed the bottles back to me saying it was "too hard," causing me to make the holes a little larger and little larger until the good white stuff was flowing freely again.

It was only after many months that I finally gave up my obsession with waste, introduced the glue table, and started just buying gallons of the least expensive glue I could find. I no longer think of glue as an adhesive, but rather as a stand-alone art medium.

This was the beginning of my journey into the deep philosophy that "waste" is in the eye of the beholder. It's not just glue. All kids some of the time, and some kids all of the time, will use the materials at hand to what adults perceive as excess, sometimes with spectacular results (bubble printing is a classic example), but more often with spectacular messes, both of which are valid results of a trial-and-error scientific process.

One of my favorite lines from all of literature is this one from Goethe:

In limitations he first shows himself the master.

More often than not, we interpret this to mean the limitations imposed from above or without, forgetting that most of our limitations in life are of the self-imposed variety. Playing with extremes is how we learn about self-limitation, which is at the heart of self-regulation or self-control. When we're not permitted the opportunity to explore limits, it means we are under the control of others, leaving us with two choices: rebellion (the natural human response to external control) or obedience (the unnatural one), neither of which tend to contribute much positive to our self-identity or our ability to think for ourselves.

I've often boasted that our school runs upon garbage, using for one last time those things heading off to the landfills and recycling centers, not using stuff as much as finishing using stuff. The fact that this is good for the environment is truly an unintended consequence: it really came about because we value managing our budget and value exploring the extremes. You just can't waste stuff that is already waste. Garbage and cheap materials are one of the ways we accommodate these seemingly opposing values.

This is why when a child dumps an entire bowl of googly eyes into a lake of glue then empties a shaker of glitter onto it, I no longer see waste. In fact, I know she is using just the right amount.

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

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Connect To Redirect

There are few more gratifying things than when the experts tell you something you already know. For instance, throughout my teaching career, I've always said that the first step with every child is to get them on my bandwagon, by which I mean, essentially, to befriend them. Once I have them on my bandwagon, once they know I like them and I know that they like me, behavior issues don't exactly go away, but they become manageable because you're working from a foundation of mutual respect and love. So when Dan Siegel and Tina Payne's book The Whole Brain Child came out in 2011 with it's concept of "connect to redirect," it didn't hit me as an epiphany, but rather as a confirmation.

"Connect to redirect" has since become a sort of bedrock principle around our school, a staple of the incredible parent educators who work with our parents. Honestly, I don't think much about it myself, because I've already sort of internalized it in my own way. I know that if I want to help someone alter a behavior or make a transition or engaged some other sort of change, my first step is to re-invest in making sure that we're still sharing a the same bandwagon. When I'm working with children with whom I have a long track record, like our five-year-olds, it might only take a couple seconds, some genuine eye-contact and an inside joke, for instance, and we're good to go. Children I'm still getting to know might take a bit more effort, but the goal is to make sure the trust is there first. But again, I don't really think about it as much as just do it: I think it's become part of who I am.

A couple weeks back one of our parent groups spent an evening discussing challenging behaviors during their monthly parent education meeting and "connect to redirect" was discussed. Afterwards, a new parent came up to me and said that he liked the idea and that during the meeting he realized that I had given him "two clear examples of how well it works."

His first example was a small one. That morning had been the first time he had seen me prepare the children for clean-up time. I typically take a few minutes to connect with the group, usually in some sort of silly, playful way, getting them on my bandwagon before officially signaling the transition. In this case, I'd goofed around with the hand drum I use to signal the end of one thing and the beginning of the next, making a show of pretending that it's a banjo, then a violin, then a flute, and so on, until most of them had gathered around insisting that it's a drum and demanding that I "bang" it. (For a more detailed version of this, click here.) I had never thought about it in the context of connect to redirect, because I normally think of that in the framework of one-to-one interactions rather than group ones, but essentially the dynamics are the same.

His second example was one, frankly, that I had told the group about, one that had stemmed from desperation. We're an urban American school which means that we have occasional problems with our local population of homeless people who are living in tents and under bridges. Over the preceding weeks, we had been dealing with a large number of hypodermic needles in the parking lot, been forced to clean up human waste, and had discovered items vandalized and stolen from our playground. As a community we spent a great deal of energy trying to figure out what we could do, most of which involved getting the police or the city involved. Of course, in a city like ours, we all knew the response would likely be some polite version of "get in line."

I always feel it as a failure when the authorities become involved: it always represents for me a breakdown rather than a solution. So, I was obviously dissatisfied with our plans. I began to ask questions and after a few days narrowed the problems down to single guy, a man with whom we were all familiar: we've all seen him sleeping in doorways, behaving in ways that indicated he was mentally ill, often walking around with his pants down around his ankles. He was new to the neighborhood, but by talking with members of the Fremont Baptist Church from whom we lease our space, I discovered that his name was Jason. Knowing this didn't solve anything, of course, but it was somewhat comforting to know that our problems were with a single guy rather than a legion.

I made up my mind that I was going talk with him. It worried me because some of his behaviors had appeared violent to us, as if he were physically fighting his demons. The next couple of times I saw him down by the stores, I chickened out, but then one day, he caught me off guard by grumbling at me as I exited a shop, "Spare change?" This was my opportunity.

I asked, "Are you Jason?"

He seemed stunned, then smiled, answering, "Yes, I'm Jason."

"I'm going to give you five dollars." I opened my wallet and handed him a bill. It disappeared into the tangle of clothing he wears.

"I work up this hill there, at the church," I said, looking him in eyes, smiling, striving for a warm, conversational tone.

He nodded his head. "Yeah, I know the church."

"I know you do. I've seen you around. I'm the preschool teacher there. That playground is where little kids play. Lately, you've been leaving your needles there and defecating there and stealing things from there." I tried to say it in a matter-of-fact, rather than accusatory manner. It was an accusation without real evidence, but since he didn't deny it I went on. "Listen, I know things are hard for you." I patted him on the arm.

He muttered something I didn't understand, but he maintained eye contact and curved his lips into a smile. I said, "I just want to ask you, as a friend, to try to be a little more respectful of the place we play with our kids. Okay?"

He didn't respond, but it seemed like he heard me. I walked away saying, "See you later!" and he replied, "Yeah man, see you later."

That night, nothing bad happened around the school. Two days later, he panhandled me again, not seeming to recognize me, so I said, "Hey Jason! Remember me? I'm Tom, the teacher from the preschool in the church. We talked a couple days ago." He looked at me and smiled, "Oh, yeah." I gave him a dollar, saying, "Good to see you."

It's now been over three weeks without any of the problems. Jason is still around. I've given him a few more dollars when he's asked, but some days we just nod at each other like friends and acquaintances do when they meet on the street.

I'm knocking on wood, but it seems that he's on my bandwagon now. The curious thing is that whereas I once hurried past him, I now find myself looking for him. Maybe I'm a little bit on his bandwagon too.

I've 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, January 22, 2019

That Is The Only Way Love Wins

Over the weekend, like many of my fellow Americans, I attended the Women's March in my city on Saturday, then took part in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march on Monday. I saw some of my students with their families on both days. One three-year-old had made her own sign for the MLK march. She had written the word "Sorry" with her own wiggly letters. 

These have become important annual events on my calendar, but they've taken on added significance since the election of the current President. 

Families were well-represented at both events, parents there with children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. This is an important point, I think, educational beyond the specific issues of the day. This is a part of how democracy works: sometimes we have to take to the streets, together, fists raised in solidarity, parents and children, making our voices heard.

Despite the emotions many of us feel, they were tame events compared to many with which I've been involved. These permitted marches convened at Cal Anderson Park and Garfield High School and ended at Seattle Center and Westlake Center, public places designed in part for these sorts of things. We sang and chanted and waved our signs. There were no cops beating us with batons. On the contrary, there were legions of them there to protect us. There were no firefighters trying to disperse us with their hoses. Our opponents did not line the streets heckling us. Judges were not standing by the throw us in jail and our local elected officials were actually participating.

For a long time, one of the biggest challenges I had when talking with children about the civil rights movement is that it's impossible to do without condemning all of society, including the very institutions we think we want children to trust. Law enforcement, fire departments, the courts, and other governmental bodies took an active and overt part in systematically violating the Constitutional rights of women and black Americans, while white Americans elected representatives that made that happen.

I've come to recognize, however, that it's healthy for both the kids as well as the rest of society when children grow up not fully trusting the power that others exert in the name of we the people. I want them to know that democracy requires their ongoing participation and continual vigilance, that everything they tell you isn't true, and that if you don't like what you see, then get out there and start making noise about it. We don't owe our children the sort of whitewashed, feel good history lessons that I was fed as a child, the ones written by those with the most power. Indeed, viewing history this way is a luxury afforded me and mine by the accident of our white skin: oppressed Americans have always had to raise their children to be wary because they know that these abuses are not just part of the past, but an active, seething part of the present. My friend's "Sorry" isn't enough, but it's a good start for every white person. And I will add another "Sorry" as a starting point for this male person.

Neither of the weekend rallies felt like celebrations. They were calls to action. Indeed, that is what the present demands from us: to roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts. We know that our government behaved badly then and is behaving badly now. We shake our heads at the evils of the past, but too many of us shrug about the overly racist and sexist policies and actions being enacted today in our name, the most outrageous of which is the President's ongoing policy of kidnapping children from legal asylum seekers, putting them in prisons, and refusing, even after court orders, to reunite them with their parents. The children of our children will be making their own signs to apologizing for the sins today being committed in the name of we the people.

This is why it is important that we tell our children the truth about our world today and every day. This is why we start by saying, "Sorry." This is why we must take our kids into the streets to raise their fists alongside their fellow citizens, to listen to them, and to then return to our lives, sleeves rolled up, efforts redoubled. This is the only way we will ever bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. This is the only way that love wins.

I've 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, January 21, 2019

Where Do We Go From Here?

And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. ~MLK

What I'm saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated. ~MLK

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. ~MLK

On this Martin Luther King Day many of us will listen to snippets, perhaps all, of his great "I Have A Dream" speech, and we should, but civil rights was not the only cause this great American championed, and it is not the only reason we honor his life today. He was also a great advocate for ending the war in Vietnam and on August 16, 1967 he gave what many consider his finest speech on poverty in America at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

Usually entitled "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?" this is long, powerful, and to this day controversial speech that reminds us that just as too little has changed when it comes to race and war in America, almost nothing has changed when it comes to poverty either. Millions of our citizens of all races remain poor, but people of color bear the greatest burden. One in five black children lives in poverty. And while the powerful in our nation are engaged in a misguided, punitive approach to reforming our educational system, they are turning a blind eye to the core issue with education in America: poverty. Let this speech be a reminder that whatever we do in the classroom, until we address the debilitating societal sickness of poverty, we will, as a nation, ultimately fail.

This is a magnificent, thoughtful and inspiring speech, one that taken in its entirety is guaranteed to make you think, make you sad, and may even make you angry. MLK calls here, for instance, for a "guaranteed national income." I know that's a non-starter for many people, but so was civil rights, so were at one time most of the great things humans have ever done. One reason we honor this man today is that so much of what he stood for has proven to be prophetic. If nothing else, we must think about what he has to tell us.

If you'd like to read the entire speech, you'll find the text here.

If you're interested in listening to the entire 1 hour, 8 minute speech, here it is broken into 7 parts.

I've included here the concluding 16 minutes of the speech. I hope it inspires you to listen to the rest.

Martin Luther King - Where Do We Go From Here? (Conclusion) from MLK Speeches on Vimeo.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Cheeky Babies

Somewhere near the dawn of this school year, we invented a game the kids call, "Cheeky Baby." We were engaged in a standard game of children pretending to be babies and I their adult, when at one point they all fled from me, possibly because I told them that it was time to go to their doctor for some shots. As they ran away, I shouted after them, "Come back here, you cheeky babies!" and the game was born. This was in our 3's class, but the game has recently spread to our 4's and kindergarten classes. Often, half the kids on the playground are involved.

I'll say, "It's time for all my babies to take a nap," then they run away as I shout the namesake line: "Come back here at once, you cheeky babies!"

I'll say, "It's time for your hugs and kisses," then they run away as I shout the line.

I'll say, "It's time to eat your yucky food," then they run away as I shout the line and so on.

Sometimes I mix things up by saying, "Whatever you do, babies, don't take a nap. It's time to run down the hill." A few will always take off running without having listened carefully, but most defy me by feigning sleep at my feet, while I'll say, "You cheeky babies, you're a supposed to run down the hill!"

You get the idea, it's a game of defiance, and specifically of defying parental authority. Of course, they are not babies and I am not their parent, so everything is once removed, but as tedious as the game gets sometimes, especially when they want to play it day after day, I find it fascinating that they take such joy in being cheeky babies. And if you believe, as I do, that children's play is at least in part preparation for the future they see before them, it isn't too much of a reach to suggest that this game is preparation for the day when they will, nay must, defy the authority in their lives.

There are always a few who decide they are going to be my "sweet, little babies," and do whatever I say -- napping when commanded, eating their yucky food, holding out their arms for a doctor's shot -- but most stick with the game of being cheeky (a word that isn't commonly used in the US and which I tend to employ as a less judgmental synonym for "naughtiness"). There are likewise a few who stand off to the side looking baffled by the game they are watching.

Lately, I've been making the game more elaborate mostly, by way of keeping it interesting for me, forbidding them from doing more and more complicated things. For instance, "Whatever you do babies, do not run to the stage and do a dance, then slide down the concrete slide," or "You are wearing your nicest clothes, babies, do not roll down the hill." Yesterday, I even went so far as to sub-contract the role of defied parent to one of their actual parents, who had a good time with it.

No, I don't think it's a problem that the children I teach are practicing the act of defying authority. In fact, I'd be thrilled to have some researcher come in to confirm that this is what they are doing because obedience is probably the most dangerous and anti-democratic thing we routinely try to teach our children. Just as likely, I reckon, is that they are simply playing a game of opposites, enjoying the joke of it, and indeed most of them are laughing as they run away, laughing at one another, laughing at themselves, laughing at the silliness of my impotent shout, "You cheeky babies, come back here at once!" But at bottom it's impossible for this game to not be at least a little bit about claiming independence by sticking a thumb in the eye of arbitrary authority, and ultimately I expect that this is why the game of Cheeky Baby continues to be a game they demand day after day.

I've 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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