Monday, August 02, 2021

These Electric Moments

Dale Chihuly

The children were telling one another about their dreams when one of them turned to me, "Teacher Tom, did you have a dream?"

I responded with the truth. "I did. I dreamt that I was at school and you were all there. Some of you were on the swings. The sky was blue. There were kids running around. And I was turning on the water to fill the pump."

"That's not a dream, Teacher Tom. That's what's happening right now!"

But that had been my dream. Perhaps it says something about me that my dreams these days are typically rather commonplace: recreations of my waking hours with only a few odd "dreamlike" things around the edges like the appearance of people who shouldn't be there. As a child I'd flown, performed feats of strength, and experienced great terror like these children on our playground. 

"Well, maybe I'm dreaming right now," I replied flippantly.

This was apparently a more profound concept than I'd anticipated. The five-year-old looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "Maybe we're all dreaming. Maybe we're in your dream and you're in our dream!"

I shrugged by way of saying, "You might be right." And for all anyone knows, she is. If nothing else, it's a fun thing to think about. The kids went back to their conversation about dreams. This one girl was particularly ignited by her new ideas, punctuating the conversation with epiphanous remarks.

"What if we all wake up right now?"

"Maybe when we're asleep, we're really awake, an when we're awake, we're really asleep!"

"What if everything in dreams came true!"

She could barely contain herself and her enthusiasm was infectious. As an educator, this is what I live for, these electric moments of life when the children, or anyone, suddenly sees the world opening up to them as a playground for their thoughts. It can't happen in places where children must worry about being right or wrong, where they are being judged and assessed, where adults have planned and planned. It can't happen in an environment of schedules and deadlines and tests. It's hard to come alive in conventional schools. Indeed, the evidence is that it is deadening.

When we free children from the artificial and arbitrary constraints of schooling and trust them with their own education, however, we release not just children, but all of us, from the dictatorship of the commonplace into the endless universe of the mind. If education fails at that, it fails altogether.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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