Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Birds of a Feather Will Flock Together

I learned the song "When Sammy Put the Paper on the Wall" from Bev Bos, Michael Leeman, and Tom Hunter. You can find their version with any search engine, but the lyrics I've memorized are:

When Sammy put the paper on the wall,
He put the parlor paper in the hall.
He papered up the stairs.
He papered all the chairs.
He even put a border on grandma's shawl.

When Sammy put the paper on the wall,
He poured a pot of paste upon us all.
Now we're all stuck together
Like birds of a feather
Since Sammy put the paper on the wall.

The most important part of the song is when we all become stuck together. I kneel in the middle of the floor, then the children gather around, crowding in, everyone's arms around the backs of others. And then we stay that way for a long moment, feeling one another's warmth, the air becoming hot and moist from our mingled breaths. In that moment, as we anticipate the cue to release our individual selves once again, we are one: one body, one voice, one focus, and one immune system. We are better and stronger because we have come together, birds of a feather.

Sometimes kids opt out of the big group hug, but rarely. Even the most standoffish find themselves drawn to be a part. Sometimes even parents join in, dropping to their knees, forming a ring of arms around us, our beaming faces flushed, sharing air, breathing together, all of us, birds of a feather.

Every professional who works with young children knows that plans for preschool children to return to school with enforced social distancing is impossible. We all know it. They show us pictures of kids in South Korea or Denmark, spaced perfectly. It's a lie. Show me a video of their day. There is no way those preschoolers are maintaining anything close to the mandated distance, at least not without the imposition of cruel measures. It sickens me to think of teachers inventing new, misanthropic lyrics to our joyful song that discourage coming together (We all stay apart like halves of a broken heart). It crushes my soul to think of children being brainwashed to avoid real contact with their friends, to keep their hands to themselves, to build alone, to paint alone, to dig alone, to play alone, all to the tune of adults admonishing them that their playmates, their loved ones, are too toxic to touch.

Too many of our children are already growing up with the knowledge that others get to tell them what to do with their body and minds. Already we teach them to accept that adults get to tell them where to go, how to behave, and even what they must think about while there. And now there are those who are seriously contemplating taking away, literally, the air that our children must breathe because whether or not the adults get it, the kids do: we are birds of a feather and we're stuck together. Children know this even if we adults have forgotten.

The bare bones truth of the story we are living right now is that the children do not have to return to their schools, but the adults must return to work. Either we're planning to send the kids back so their parents can return to work or we're going to keep the children socially isolated at home with their parents, pretending that Zoom is good enough.

As a preschool teacher, I have lived most of my adult life in the Petri dish of preschool. I've inhaled every contagion that's come our way and so have the children, all of us stuck together, embracing, breathing the same air in and out, birds of a feather stuck together. Of course, we wash our hands, try to sneeze into our elbows, and sanitize surfaces. Of course we stay home when we we're under the weather, but it's all done with the realist's understanding that it's mostly Kabuki.

I'm not advocating for any sort of public policy here. I'm just pointing out that social distancing in preschool is impossible. Birds of a feather will flock together and the only thing that can keep them apart is cages.


My new book, Teacher Tom's Second Bookis at the printers! We're offering a pre-publication discount through May 18. I'm incredibly proud of it. And while you're on the site, you can also find my first book, Teacher Tom's First Book, at a discount as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below.

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