Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Love Is The Only Revolutionary Force

Psychologist Carl Jung wrote, "Where love rules there is not will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking." This, I think, is an important thing upon which modern educators in general, and early childhood educators in particular, could stand to meditate.

I strive to place love at the center of my practice, as I know is true of most of my colleagues. We genuinely love the children we teach and they love us. I've witnessed this to be widely true wherever I've visited. It's perhaps our greatest reward (because it sure isn't financial). When it goes as it should, we spend our days loving and being loved, swimming in it, breathing it. Our job is to keep them safe and to otherwise simply be there, loving them and helping them as they figure out how to connect with, to love, more people. This is the foundation of not just all learning, but all living in the fullest sense of the word.

When I look at our habitual idea of schooling, I see a lot of loving individual teachers working in a system in which love has been pushed to the side, and where power therefore predominates. From our earliest years, we are judged by our educational system, one that pretends to know what is normal and to then act to enforce it. The French philosopher Michel Foucault sees this as an exercise in power, a form he calls "normalization," in which our souls are imprisoned by expectations and standards and this has characterized our schools right up to our current era of high stakes standardized testing which has come to dominate the educational experience for most of our children.

It's a system of power that appears largely designed to create "normal" children rather than educated ones, where those that cannot bend to the will of the system are labelled, then subjected to increasingly overt forms of power, right up to the use of force, which is ultimately a failure of power. They must either "learn" how to behave or find themselves rejected. It's a power, however, that isn't derived so much from the threat of force as from the capacity to label: this one is "normal" and that one is "abnormal," and it can only exist as a poor replacement for the love that should stand at the center, but has been pushed aside.

I watched a baby on my flight home from visiting our daughter in New York over a long weekend, and what I saw was a free human. Sure, he was 100 percent dependent upon the adult humans in his life, yet because love clearly stood at the center of his relationships with those important adults, this dependency didn't translate into them exerting power over him. Instead of "behaving," he shouted when he felt the urge, grabbed whatever was within reach, bounced furiously, cried from his belly, and everyone around him considered this to be "normal." You do too. This is just what babies do. By the same token, when his two-year-old brother whined or cried or kicked the seats in front of him, people around me shook their heads and pursed their lips, as if to say, "This mother needs to gain control over her child," to exert power over him. That is to say, this slightly older human cannot be allowed to be free.

Thankfully, this mother on this six hour flight did not replace her love with power, but I couldn't help but reflect that it was, sadly, only a matter of time.

Of course, we are all subject to Foucault's normalized power. We allow society to exert its power over us. We don't shout and cry on airplanes, even when we may often feel like it. And when one of us does "lose it," the rest tend to agree that he ought to be removed from the plane. Although if we think beyond our own comfort and the arbitrary confines of "normal," I expect we can all see how love would be a more appropriate response to that troubled individual than an exercise in power.

I know there are some teachers who have become creatures of the system. I came across them in my own schooling: those who allow their will to power to dominate, who see success in terms of well-behaved, properly drilled students, turning out passing grades and high enough test scores, normal kids prepared for normal lives. Thankfully, most teachers have not lost touch with love and who, despite the demands of the our habitual schools to normalize children, set their love between the children and those demands, putting love first, especially for those who would whine and cry and kick the seats in front of them. These teachers are my heroes.

Our schools are not unique in having replaced power with love. Indeed, it has become the main focus of most of our institutions and professions to label what is normal and what is not, then to work to make as many of us normal as possible, to exert power over not just how we behave, but ultimately who we are.

It upsets me when I think that these free humans that we teach will all too soon find themselves increasingly subject to this normalized power, the systematic hammering down and smoothing out, the judgements and labels.

Ah, but we have love on our side. It is perhaps the only revolutionary force in that it is the only thing that can supplant power. When we celebrate heroes, it is always because they have loved where others would control. It is always because they have chosen to empower rather than exercise power. I am inspired by thinking about all of us preschool teachers out there in the world in our church basements and living rooms, our classrooms and playgrounds, fighting the power by simply loving. They think we are weak, but we are strong. We are the revolutionary force the world needs and we will win when we love.

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