Sunday, June 20, 2021

Until We Find Our Way Back To Our Villages

Whenever I have the chance to pontificate on what's wrong with our world, part of my answer always comes down to the fact that we've removed children from the center of our lives. Every day, we send the kids to school, the adults go to work, and the grandparents are in retirement communities (or live halfway across the country). Not only that, but because children are no where near the center of life, many new parents haven't had actual children in their lives since they were children themselves, meaning that their sweet bundles of joy arrive as a kind of alien presence.

Humans have evolved to live in villages and neighborhoods that include people of all ages and stages, but the modern world scuttled that, leaving too many of our families, apart, alone, and inexperienced to face the world. No wonder parenting today is so incredibly stressful. It's not meant to be a job done by only one or two adults. It's the job for a village.

It was not an accident that my wife Jennifer and I returned to Seattle where our parents and siblings lived to have our baby, but discovering our village was a happy accident, one that shaped, well, everything. When we enrolled in the Latona Pre-3's Cooperative Preschool, I had no way of knowing that we had found our village. I hadn't even known we needed one.

When our daughter moved on to kindergarten, I stayed behind, becoming a teacher the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool, where I spent the better part of the past two decades. If you want to know more about how our school works, click here. If you want to learn even more, click here and read the posts from the bottom up.

Perhaps the aspect of our cooperative preschool system that I am most grateful for are all the incredible parent educators who worked with me, both as a parent and as a teacher. These wise women, and they have all been women, made it possible for parents to become their best selves and for me to become Teacher Tom. As I told Tania Hino, parent educator, consult for cooperative schools, founder of "Somos Mujeres Latinas, and presenter at Teacher Tom's Play Summit, "One of the things that parents always said to me after they left our school to go on to kindergarten was that the thing they missed the most wasn't our great playground. It wasn't Teacher Tom. It was parent education."

This, perhaps more than anything else, is what we've lost when we've lost our villages and neighborhoods. Throughout human history, children have been at the center of society and everyone had a hand in raising them. When parents were overwhelmed, there were always grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends at hand to help out. When parents had questions or concerns, the community was always there. Without our villages, we've turned to books and blogs for the advice and assurance that was once a matter of course for new parents.

Having parent educators and parents together in the classroom with the children at the center, as we do in cooperative preschool, is a move back towards our village roots. Yes, we are there to focus on the children, but at any given moment, Tania and educators like her, will be sitting one-on-one with parents who are struggling, be it with their child, their marriage, or anything else in their interconnected lives. We come together regularly as a community in the evenings to discuss the matters that impact us all, like a child who is biting or timid or who has just been diagnosed with something. We all learn to administer this child's Epi-pen or that child's seizure meds or simply how to best sooth them when they're upset. The blinders of confidentiality that one typically finds in school settings are necessarily dropped in favor of a transparency that reveals us all to be human, all to be uncertain, all to be in this together. Parents are there for one another when emergencies arise, caring for one another's children, giving them lifts, feeding them, and treating them as one of the family.

This sort of parent education and support is one of the most vital things we've lost when we, as a society, decided that we would raise our children in pink collar ghettos while we retreat to our adult's only workplaces and grandparents wait until the holidays to see their grandchildren. 

Caring for the children should stand at the center of any healthy society. For many of us, however, it's hard to imagine a world constructed in any other way. This is the way our parents did it, and maybe even our grandparents, but when one considers the sweep of human history, we see that children were always there: in our meetings, at our workplaces, and as invited guests at all our parties. They were there not just to be cared for, but also to remind the adults what is really most important.

This is the kind of interconnected environment in which we would all thrive best, adults and children alike. If we are going to heal the world's problems, from violence and war to climate change and racism, I'm afraid that solutions will elude us until we find a way back to our villages.


To watch my entire interview with Tania, please join us at Teacher Tom's Play Summit. 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? Teacher Tom's Play Summit  is 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. 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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