I have began to read two texts that deal with entirely different parts of learning but seem somehow very complementary.
The first is The hundred languages of children, the Reggio Emilia approach – advanced reflections, edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini and George Forman. This is an excellent introduction to this educational philosophy and is a meditation on the nature of early human nature and the way in which it can be guided and stimulated in different cultural environments. Howard Gardner, one of the contributors explains how the Reggio system is a collection of schools for young children in which each child’s intellectual, emotional, social and moral potentials a carefully cultivated and guided (xvi). Gardner explains how so often in north American and other educational philosophy, children are central to the discourse but not to the practice. I would say that this is also true of parenting.
So often, children’s words and behaviors are categorized from an adult perspective which completely nullifies and ignores their needs, abilities and thoughts. We, adults, often do not know how to listen nor put into actions modes of interaction and communication that mirror the values we hold dear in discourse. Our social systems, let it be within families or institutions, all use processes of communication and interactions that reinforce competition as the dominant standard mode of behaviors. It seems to me that the struggles and difficult world realities children will be facing as adults means that we must help them figure out how to turn their dream into reality instead of pushing our existing notions of the real onto them. Only through their dreams will innovations emerge which can lead to real sustainable cultural and social change. Many of us do not see the curiosity, wonder and serious interests which develop very early on in children. We remold them, erase these uniqueness by simply saying no to an activity which seems out of place to us. As children we learned to not being listened to and as a consequence live very isolated lives.
As gardner explain the Reggio Emilia system can seem idealized but in reality demands very rigorous work on the part of all participants. The type of rigorous requires is not based on performance however but on the work put to solve conflicts within this dynamic system of relationships. Rigorous work that allows for deep reflection and by consequence a deeper understanding of oneself and leads to individual self-critical awareness. Adults must also struggle through this process and model practice. Understanding what a child expresses from his/her point of view requires entering their world and letting go of our own biases and in turn requires from the adult or educator a serious introspective self questioning process that helps one understand his or her own filtered mental and physical perspections and how we lock the words and expressions of children into adult meaning. Not only must we as adult go through such a process but I believe that we must vocalize and show children the difficulties we have in these becoming listeners.
Most adults, me included, don’t know how to listen as they, themselves, have been conditioned not to be listened to as children. Traditional social conditioning is the repeating of what we have learned in a specific context (Bourdieu, 1970). If as children we were not listened to,we will tend as adult to do the same to our children. We often underestimate the power of social learning and since birth, children learn from adults how to deny the reality they find themselves in. It is much more difficult for a child to realize and admit their parents do not do what they claim to believe in then to not see the paradox between their words and action. Children learn to live in their own world, alienated from adults and learning to hide themselves very early on. But a person with no hope for self actualization will either become hyper-competitive ans never miss not finding themselves, but may eventually suffer a slow descent into chronic disease as a consequence of repressed mental life that creates biological disfunction, maybe self victimize, rebel or turn to work, sport, substance, food, media or people addiction in order to numb the suppressed the self and stop feeling.
No wonder Mcluhan considered the media of the20th century as the opiate of the masses. In such an oppressive system, mass media is a powerful means to project unattainable dreams for us to abide by. A dream world where adults do not disappoint children and where discourse is not contradicted by paradoxical actions. In western social contexts where most of us have been desensitized to ourselves, learning to abide to the rules and “norms” of upper social classes, oppressing ourselves via mirroring a non existent normalized dream self via the performers on the screen, living via their scripted lives instead of in the physical world. This version of mediated worlds has made life bearable for many while reinforcing inaction.
To regain the ability to self actualized means regaining the belief that our dreams, not those of others, are meaningful and can become real. It also means modeling for children the process of making real hat we hope and the struggles of learning to listen and be listened to. To learn to enter into a conversation with them and others that lead to new ideas and ways of looking at the world.
The 21st century massive media offer us the chance to present to the world with representation of our own dreams and documentations of our experimenting with how to transform them into reality. We are emerging out of an addiction media phase where we anesthetized ourselves with the collective mass fantasies media presented us with. While i am glad to read of a system in which each child’s intellectual, emotional, social and moral potentials a carefully cultivated and guided, personally, I am coming to understand that the experiential, biological and sensory potentials of a child should also be included in this list.
We each sense the world in unique ways which drastically alter our perception of the world and forms unique cultures which are too often not recognized. Deaf culture comes to mind, non informed hearing people tend to assume that deaf people can not hear nor listen, but anyone who has had experience within such communities know that is not the case. Biological potentials are also important because our chemistry affects our behaviors (xxx) and in our societies we impose ignoring and repressing these differences instead of fostering a health biological system and thus a healthy mental as well as physical foundation. And experiential potentials because our our, mind, social, cultural and other influences make us each a unique individual who belong to various cultures, some anthropological and others more or less knowingly. I’d to the specificities of our body, biology, etc. as long as we ignore these very important aspect of a person’s life and force children to repress the aspects o of their uniqueness, we are fostering the development of adults who do not know how to care for themselves on level other then intellectual and socio-economic levels.
If that is the case, many of the special gifts children have are not only not brought to bare but often lead to a forced separation from the Self which becomes equivalent to a violent traumatic experience. Such repression will eventually lead to a crisis in adulthood or a very dysfunctional life. But in order to guide children in these healthy ways of perceiving the world, we must too go through a process of understanding what we are as sensory beings. We must be willing to questions our ways and let children question them to. Can we create new scaffolding where we let go of the deep seeded behaviors of ego driven competition for those of a deeply inter-connected listening being? This brings me to the second text i am reading, brain therapy, a text by Diane Craft, a psychologist that has helped children better integrate their left and right brain capacities by making them do eye and body exercises which are suppose to balance the activities of the two hemispheres. I tried the exercises and they made me nauseous … But beside this fact, I am realizing how much an integrative approach have to include the body in learning. Not just via phys ed, which for many students is agony. But by building activities which work the body and mind at the same time.
In these first few weeks i am starting to see this integration emerge in how we are structuring our routines. Swimming every morning, chores and activities all require physical and mental work. But such a way means letting go of the institutional values I have grown up with. From my perspective, as the adult, i have a hard time letting go of my own ideas of what a learning experience means. It seems that formal structures are key to how I understand learning. I do not have the mental constructs necessary to easily eliminate rope learning and controlled instruction. So, the internal struggles begin as I try to learning to listen and let go of my assumptions. Thank goodness my children are showing me a different way. One of my children can not easily learn formally.
He needs to move and be active and having to stand still to learn a task is a very big problem. I have come her armed with exercises books and educational material. During these first two weeks we have struggled as i have imposed my idea of how my child should learn and he has fought back. Slowly, I realized i needed to change my approach. He tells me he hates math, yet when arguing over how many candies his dad is keeping for him, he can very quickly add and subtract. I am realizing that for some children, such as my child, learning must be active, or watch someone else do it first to gain understanding of how things work, and learning must be genuinely meaningful and happen when the child is ready.
Media can be a great help. He retains and processes way more information from one documentary or a game then a textbook. Simulation of cooking has helped him learn how recipes work…. And he now wants to cook. For this child, like many others, , exercise or learning can not be organized in formal activities but must be integrated in daily life. A simpler way of life that relies less on machines for some of the daily tasks actually accomplishes that. For instance doing laundry by hand, works your entire upper body quite effectively. Teaching kids some basics living skills such as building can make them use their bodies.
We are starting to build things, and I will keep track of what the kids learn via these activities. The cultural struggles have began and the conflicts the kids are encountering are an awesome starting point. But here come the first problems, in our busy society, who has time to deal with conflict in a constructive manner? Parents are busy trying together through the day and teachers have very busy classroom with many students which makes it difficult to let conflict exist and evolve.
Can we build healthier lifestyles without changing the broader system? It is way to hard to demanding to change the entire world. Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe the question should be can our struggle for better lifestyles lead to organic sustainable changes to the broader system? I think so. By altering my life I alter the future. If more of us did so and broadcasted our experiments, discoveries, changes and failures, maybe our notions of realities would change at home, work and play.