Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Doing Deep Democracy

I was hanging out on one of our swings chewing the fat with some of the kids. I can't remember what we were talking about, but I'd just said, "I guess I forgot," when Roko earnestly replied, "You know, Teacher Tom, "When you get older you forget more stuff."

The following day, I was a sitting in a circle of children heatlessly arguing about Star Wars. Roko was there and when one of the other kids insisted I was wrong about some detail, I answered, "Well, I saw the first movie a long time ago, when I was a teenager. Roko told me that when you get older you forget more stuff so maybe I just forgot."

Roko nodded, "It's true."

Cecelia, who has just finished her first year of kindergarten, didn't agree, "No, the way it works is you go to another school and another school and every time you go to another school you get smarter and you remember more."

Paul had another thought, "If you see Star Wars when you're little and short, then you get tall and old you forget."

Roko's older brother, Matija, another kindergarten graduate said, "When you get to be like 70 years old you start to forget things. That's what's happening to my grandpa." Now I understood what Roko had originally been trying to warn me about.

Henry then insisted, "You get smarter when you watch TV."

I couldn't help myself, "Really?"

He clarified, "When you watch animal shows, then you get smarter . . . about animals."

Myla jumped in, "I'm a girl scout. We get badges when we learn new things."

Liam told us that he was going to be a boy scout.

One of the youngest boys said, "I'm going to be a girl scout when I get bigger." Some of the older kids jumped on that, telling him that he was a boy and that he would have to be a boy scout. He looked crushed so I tried to buck him up by siding with him, "When I get bigger, I'm going to be a girl scout too. I want to get some of those badges so I don't forget so much stuff." When the kids then turned to me to insist that 1) I wasn't a girl and 2) I was already too old, I role modeled standing up for myself. "If I want to be a girl scout I can be a girl scout."

Myla asked, "Are you like a girl inside of a man?"

"Maybe so."

"Does that mean you have a penis and a vagina?" She was joking, going for an absurdity.

Cecelia jumped in, "I know a girl with a penis."

Several of the older kids responded with some version of, "Really?" an invitation to tell them more, unlike my earlier "Really?" to Henry which had been, frankly, a good natured, but still judgmental expression of doubt.

"Yes, she has a penis and she wants to be called they."

I asked, "She wants to be called they instead of he or she?"

"Yeah, so I call her . . . I mean I call they they."

Myla asked, "So could they be a girl scout or boy scout?"

Cecelia shrugged, "I guess so. They can be anything they want."

Hanging around together, discussing the world and the people we find there, tossing out our thoughts and ideas, sharing without judgement, asking questions, learning new stuff, changing our minds: this is deep democracy.


What if the whole world understood the power of trusting children with the freedom to play, to explore their world, to ask and answer their own questions? What if everyone respected their right to learn in their own way, on their own time? What if we remembered that children must have their childhoods and that means playing, and lots of it? Registration is now open for Teacher Tom's Play Summit , a free, online conference that takes place June 20-25. Click here to get your free pass to all 24 of our incredible sessions with early childhood and parenting experts and thought leaders from around the world. Every one of these people are professionals who have placed children first. Please share this far and wide. You will walk away from this event transformed, informed, challenged, and inspired to create a world that respects children and sets them free to learn and grow. Together we can, as presenter Raffi sings, "Turn this world around!"

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