Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Been There, Done That

I'm sitting here "braising" - not quite stewing, this heat is lower but it's still getting the job done. But what, you may ask, am I braising about?

I can't seem to type a single sentence to talk about what's on my mind without holding down the backspace key because it's too plain or inflammatory. (Here's my final attempt:) What I really want to say is that some of what qualifies as a Good Education (here and also "there") is failing our children in ways much more far-reaching than we as a society are really capable of thinking about.

I am speaking, specifically, about they way children are treated in pre- and elementary schools. About all the ways and means teachers use to get children to do what they want them to do in order to maintain the appearance of doing a good job; being a good teacher.

I know exactly what I am talking about because, as the title says, I have "BTDT" and bought the tee shirt.

You see, there was a time when, as a teacher, I believed that I knew what was best for a child - even better than the child's own mother. There was a time when I would cast subtle scowls at those whose actions as a parent were substandard to my own practices as a teacher. I've been on both the receiving and giving ends of the teacher-to-teacher glance, confirming with our eyes that yes, this mother was failing at her job.

I have been that person.

Now I ask myself, Who am I to assume that the systematic manner of classroom management techniques I employed to exercise crowd control are the best ways to parent a child? Particularly a small child. In a room full of young children where the ratio is one adult to average 10 children, the adult has to use crowd control/herd management techniques to maintain order. The people in her care are given absolutes. No one can dare buck the system because if one "breaks out" they all break out. That's how I ran the show. That, I dare say, is how most teachers must run the show; otherwise it would be utter chaos.

I had somehow arrived at the conclusion that because I could make these children do what I wanted with dangling carrots and looming threat of isolation (friendly term: time out), I was a good psuedo mom teacher for these teeny tiny precious little souls. Of course I love(d) them. I really did. But how can one woman really allow the 8 to 10 young children in her care to do what made them happy and maintain order and control? (The grown ups, we want Order and Control at all costs.)

I look back at myself now and I don't judge that me. I mostly feel sorry, knowing that I meant well and still ended up doing some harm in the process. That proverbial road to hell, however, must be paved and I have done my part, that old me.

Now I look on despairingly and shake my head at what some schools and teachers are doing in their classrooms (that really ought not exist because young children do not need a special room for CLASSES (fun or not), they need a PLAY room and a play ground, if you ask me... wait, I digress... right, I was saying that as I look on shaking my head, spilling tears because I believe - with all my heart - that all these rules and behavior modification techniques that are being forced on these wee souls fracture and break parts yet un-recognized, erode parts of still-new emotional and intellectual foundations and take so much more away from the person than they give.

I have been there and I have done that. With a kind of religious adherence.

And now - RIGHT NOW - I want to wish that I could give a magic talk or write a magic blog that will help all those well meaning teachers to "get it": that these children are still babies. That they still need their mammas to hold them when they're scared, it's still okay and good and right that they miss their parents when they are gone, that they need to be free and safe to explore their world without judgement from adults. Gentle guidance, yes. Judgement, no. I want to wish this but I know it's a process, a journey, gentle (sometimes not-so-gentle) new awareness upon gentle new awareness that has led me to a new understanding.

With deepest thanks to whatever Grace that falls my way, I am now here in my journey. A lovely place where the glass is a little less dark, the faces are a little more clear and the joy is a whole lot sweeter.

In closing, I feel I still have to say out loud to the world that as educators, we must realize that there isn't any one set of rules and standards that we can blithely and stubbornly try to make every person fit into. Children need to laugh and play and try stuff and cry when they feel sad, stomp when they feel mad, mess up and spill stuff, to work on finding and using their words, and most of all to run to their mammas when they want to.

Boxes and labels do not belong here among the holders of Apron Strings. I really believe the don't belong anywhere near any people at all.

Let's save those for moving day.

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