Friday, October 20, 2023

After All, We're Only Human

I've spent this past week in Iceland alongside colleagues from the UK, Canada, Germany, and the US as part of the annual Play Iceland early childhood experience. Next week, I intend to share reflections from my time here, but today I just want to share the photo that illustrates this post.

It is what it looks like: a sign at the Keflavik airport cell phone lot with a very clear message. Apparently, it was necessary and, I suppose, easier and less expensive than providing a toilet. It is also perhaps a little more kind and trusting than a surveillance camera. I imagine there are some who would see it as a sign of the demise of civil society. But it's more obviously evidence that there are sometimes very long waits to pick up arriving passengers at this place where high winds, snow, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions make taking off and landing airplanes according to a schedule a dodgy business. 

As early childhood educators, we all know that "just hold it" only works on a certain subset of adults with normally functioning bodies, which is, in the end, the message of this sign. The toileting related "accident" is a part of our profession. We've all dealt with exploding diapers, wet pants, and frantically rushing about in search of a public restroom at the most inconvenient moments.

It's not just the children who crack one another up with jokes about pee and poo. Whenever early childhood educators come together, as we did this week, there are always moment of hilarity as we share our stories. It's not a field for the prim and proper, nor the feint of heart. Most of us, of course, have learned, when outside our ECE bubble, to abide by culturally approved "display rules," those unspoken rules that tell us which behaviors and emotions a given person may express at a given time. Most of us know that these jokes are a professional matter, forbidden in "mixed" company.

Indeed, learning display rules like this stands at the center of what young children are doing in preschool. Sometimes they are overtly taught, but most of these rules are acquired through cultural osmosis: living among the other people, observing and having "accidents." Too often we think of intelligence as a self-conscious process that involves knowing what we know and how we know it, but most of our intelligence is comprised of this kind of learning.

This sign made us chuckle. After all, there are very few places in which it couldn't be appropriately posted, but, thankfully, we don't generally need to cover our world in them because most of us have the smarts, savvy, and social skills -- that is to say, the cultural intelligence -- to abide by them.

And this also goes for those whose breaking of the display rules prompted the creation of this sign. Every one of those scofflaws undoubtedly knew what they were doing. I doubt any of them left human waste in a cell phone parking lot willy nilly. They held it as long as they could. When they could wait no longer, they hid behind a shrub. They furtively looked out for anyone who might catch them in the act. They hurried as much as biology would allow, then walked away acting casual, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And, of course, anyone unfortunate enough to witness their act would have been disgusted by the unsanitary conditions left behind, and also somewhat disappointed in their fellow humans. 

But if we're honest, if we put ourselves in their shoes, we will also have to consider what we would have done in the same situation, and, I would hope, allow ourselves a bit of empathy instead of only judgement. And this, I think, is why this sign makes us chuckle. After all, we're only human.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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