Thursday, March 07, 2019

The World Of Gray

As a young boy, things were a bit more black and white than they are today. When it came to water from the tap, for instance, cold was good and hot was bad. Ham was yummy, but mayonnaise was so yucky that even a dot of it on a sandwich could negate the meat's advantages. Fast was always better than slow, awake topped asleep, and red was the best color.

As an adult, of course, I'm not such an extremist. I've come to realize that there is a time and place for water of all temperatures, that mayo in the right amount can make a dull sandwich great, that speed is relative, that a good night's sleep is wonderful, and that red isn't even always the best color for apples. We call it maturing, I suppose, or growing up, and it's a process that we all experience, even if some of us never get over our aversion to mayonnaise.

Preschoolers are notoriously drawn toward extremes, which is, I reckon, both part of how they make sense of the world as well as how they try to assert some control over it. It's the simplest way to categorize things: good or bad, yummy or yucky, black or white. As adults working with young children, it's tempting for us to assert our own more mature vision of the world, to point them toward the gray areas, the "in between" that comprises most of what we know. When I was a younger teacher, for instance, I can't tell you how many times I found myself futilely trying to get kids to see that "good guys" and "bad guys" are a matter of perspective.

I no longer try to persuade them any more than I try to persuade adults. I've come to understand that they need to explore the world in this way. It's not an ending point, but rather a natural starting point for coming to grips with a rich, complex, ever-changing world. They are doing what they need to do, what we all needed to do in order to ultimately persuade ourselves as the world of gray begins to reveal itself to us. My job is not to hurry them through, but rather to be with them, role modeling and knowing that the older they get, the more they will come to know that they don't know.

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