Friday, February 07, 2020

When Our Butterflies Are Ready, They Will Emerge

Did you know that if you are in a hurry for a butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, you can induce it to emerge by breathing on it? The warmth of your breath will trick it into behaving as if its time has come. Of course, it will be premature, incompletely formed, and unable to survive for more than a few minutes, but you can, if you want, induce it.

It's an apt metaphor, I think, for much of what happens in the world of early childhood education, where the ethic of more and faster regularly captures the imaginations of policy makers, corporate "do-gooders," and even some administrators. I know where it comes from. It's baked into our corporate culture, this idea that everything must be driven by goals, assessed by how quickly it can "scale," measured according to data, and judged by rigid standards. It's a world that is dominated by calendars and watches and "we need it tomorrow." And it's celebrated because, you know, it's the way to build "unicorns" (companies valued at over a billion dollars) and "decacorns" (companies valued at over 10 billion).

Yesterday a friend and former Woodland Park parent who helps stay-at-home-moms re-enter the workforce, told me that one of the biggest challenges these women face is shifting from the habit measuring time like a parent to measuring it like a businessperson. She told me that parents of young children (and their teachers for that matter) tend to think more in terms of seasons rather than days and weeks when it comes to getting things done, which is a much more appropriate approach when it comes to human development. They struggle to adjust to deadlines, for instance, that seem arbitrary, because in the timeline of seasons the butterfly will emerge when it's ready, usually, but not always, within the week to 10 day timeframe typically dictated by the process of metamorphosis, and there is nothing one can do to hurry it along.

This is the world of early childhood, a place where the most important things happen, not according to schedules we make, but rather according to the spaciousness of seasonal processes, developmental stages instead of more and faster deadlines; processes that are as old as humanity. And, in part, this is why so much of the "reform" that comes the corporate world is doomed to fail, and to even damage, the children they seek to help.

You can't hurry the seasons, but you can count on them. There's no place for more and faster when it comes to young children. When our butterflies are ready, they will emerge, and not one moment sooner.

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