Wednesday, March 23, 2022

"We Can't Make Children Learn, But We Can Let Them Learn"

In her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik writes:

"Love doesn't have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive. Love's purpose is not to shape our beloved's destiny, but to help them shape their own. It isn't to show them the way, but to help them find a path for themselves, even if the path they take isn't one we would choose ourselves, or even one we would choose for them."

"(O)ur job as parents," she writes, "is not to make a particular kind of child. Instead, our job is to provide a protected space for love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish. Our job is not to shape our children's minds; it's to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to tell children how to play; it's to give them the toys and pick the toys up again after the kids are done. We can't make children learn, but we can let them learn."

This is good counsel for teachers as well.

Parents, of course, are expected to love their children, but I know that many teachers, although I hope not most, are uncomfortable with the idea that love should stand at the center of their relationship to the young children in their lives. But that is exactly what young children need: love and lots of it. We are social animals, evolved for life in tribes, villages, and extended families. As Gopnik writes, "Caring for children has never, in all of human history, just been the role of biological mothers and fathers. From the very beginning it's been a central project for any community of human beings." Love is the thread that holds it all together and any idea of early childhood that tries to replace it with arm's length relationships does not acknowledge the fundamental truth about who we are.

In a world in which our villages have been broken apart, with parents spending their days segregated into workplaces, children segregated into schools, and grandparents scattered far and wide, our children still need that community of human beings. This means that, until the revolution comes, families and early childhood educators must be that community if we are to provide our children with what they need to thrive.

I don't know if that's an ideal scenario or not, but it's where we are right now.

I've spent my entire professional life in cooperative preschools, communities of families in which, in Gopnik's words, "Education . . . is simply caring for children broadly conceived."

This is the idea behind my course entitled The Empowered Educator: Partnering With Parents. I know from experience that educators and parents can be the community our children need to thrive, but it's sometimes hard to see how we get there from here. This course is an opportunity for educators to begin to make it happen.

Love doesn't have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose: and that purpose is to give one another what we need to shape our own lives.


If you're interested in learning more about creating a learning village that parents will wholeheartedly support, I've developed this 6-part course called The Empowered Educator: Partnering With Parents. As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. How would it be to have parents show up as allies? (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Discounts are available for groups.

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