Boardwalk in Seaside, Oregon on a typical Pacific Northwest beach day
It could be argued that as I enter my thirties the increase in my thoughts about children is a natural progression, but then your argument would be wrong. I work with children and have for most of my professional life. I’m at that very important point in my career where I recognize that I’m done working with kids, but would prefer to work in programs that benefit children. It’s time for me to transition, before I become that burned out, crotchety hag who is yelling at kids for running at recess.
All of these years working in education and my recent return to school have provided me with a clear definition of the relationship I don’t want to have with students. I often hear adults say things that are frustrating, sad, and, sometimes, plain terrifying. In the past few months, I’ve heard the “Columbus discovered America” line. Yep, in 2013, in a classroom, that lie is continuing to be perpetuated. I may start a Kickstarter campaign to purchase copies of James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “Lies Across America” for every educator in our country.
Most recently, I sat brokenhearted in the back of a classroom (unable to make a stand for fear of undermining the teacher, which we all know in a kindergarten class quickly leads to an overthrow and subsequent Lord of the Flies governing). The teacher was introducing a writing project that required the students to craft a sentence about what they wear to the beach and then illustrate their prose. She asked, “What do you wear to the beach?” A student raised her hand and said, “A sweatshirt.” The response she got was disheartening. She was told no, sweatshirts aren’t worn at the beach and then was forced to sit a listen to the items of clothing “appropriate” for the beach: swimsuits, shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, etc. You know all those things you wear to the beach…in Florida.
This isn’t Florida and neither was where I grew up, where if you wore shorts and a tank top to the beach you got hypothermia and died. “Appropriate” beach attire was knit hats, sweatshirts AND winter coats, Wellies, gloves. In a previous post I lamented about putting a limitation on individual thought and the fear that we were creating herds of like-mindedness. The observation of this interaction made me realize that it goes beyond directed thinking and becomes a projection of our own perspective.
Saying to another person, “Snakes are scary,” is a projection of fear. It’s a personal perspective. Now, let’s be clear, snakes ARE scary. They are not ok. Ever. Simply typing those 6 letters has made me put my feet up on the chair. But by stating this as fact, I’ve now projected my reality onto you. As an adult, you undoubtedly have had your own experiences with snakes and have a developed personal opinion, but consider all of the things a child has yet to experience. Our projection forces perspective on them, rather than labeling and presenting them as our own fears. By stating, “I THINK snakes are scary,” it lets someone develop their own ideas about these vile, nasty creatures.
As educators, by sharing our beliefs as the gospel, we are telling children that there are right and wrong ways to have experiences and perspective. Making statements of fact, rather than opinion gives them the idea that if they don’t carry the same views, they are different or wrong. When you individualize your statements, you individualize perspective. Children now get to experience the world as new, rather than with the preconceptions that have been forced on them.
It is our responsibility to help prepare children for life outside of childhood. There are cultural and social norms that must be imparted, but to “teach” an experience is absurd. The very definition of experience includes the element of discovery.
Even beyond education, forcing perspective is a dangerous way to traverse life. Consider the climate of our culture today in regards to bigotry over race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. There are people who are telling others how to experience and how to view and because we have grown up in an educational system that taught us in the same way, it doesn’t feel wrong. But it is.
We don’t live for the things we know, but for the things we don’t. The unknown.