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Learning at its Best

Please don’t take my blanket away!

Image credit: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts

As I was taking my younger daughter to her daycare this morning, making sure I don’t forget her favorite stuffed toy — Piglet, of Winnie the Pooh fame ;-) — a sequence of pictures flashed in front of my eyes:

The warmth of our home, causing my brain to recall familiar smells from the baking in the oven and family voices mixing in a symphony of noise my ears could enjoy forever, making me forgetting all about the milk my daughters spilled this morning on the floor as they were chasing around the dining table.

The inviting playfulness of my daughter’s daycare, with the chaos of toys, crayons, drawings providing happy food to my soul, despite the fact I am late for a meeting and getting to the exit door seems to take forever as me and a handful of other parents try to avoid stepping on the little fingers that seem to be in almost every square foot of the floor.

The messy desk at work is full of family photos, yellowing old paper with some uplifting message I must have printed ages ago that says I should chin up to challenges , my daughters’ pile of drawings and crafts mixed up with project plans and architecture diagrams — all bringing comfort to my emotional brain, even though I feel stressed as I can’t find that report I printed for the customer meeting in 5 minutes.

Suddenly, my older daughter’s tidy classroom full of organized boxes, lined up tables and chairs, sorted books, etc. looked strangely uncomfortable. As I was puzzling why I didn’t noticed that 30 minutes ago as I was dropping her off first before driving to the daycare, I realized I couldn’t see any object in the classroom that had emotional value for me or that I could connect with any of the other three pictures that popped in my brain just before.

Most  schools seem to expect from the kids to forget about their family and their friends outside school and focus on the teacher and the learning. It is an environment where rules abound and chaos is not tolerated. It is an environment where bringing your favorite blanket or stuffy is not allowed or condemned as uncool and even damaging the kids’ independence!

Why is it that we encourage people at work, especially in a high-stress environment where they’re expected to work flexible and long hours, to set-up a little family shrine on their desk, so they can be more efficient and cope with the stress? Why is it that when kids start in daycare or preschool they’re encouraged to bring familiar objects and toys from home so they don’t feel scared and separated? Unfortunately, once they enter school, we put a sign at the classroom door that says “Family ends here!”

I think schools should stop alienating the family by imposing walls that clearly mark the territory for the kids and should start seeing themselves as extensions to the family environment. They should invite the familiarity of the kids’ homes to enter the classroom. They should open the doors for a horde of toys, books, family items and other things that are of emotional value to the kids to bring some chaos to the floor.

The parents — including me and my wife!! — are guilty of preventing the familiar to spill into the classroom too. We worry over lost items. We fear the emotional reaction of our kids if their favorite toy gets broken. We bought into the idea that independence from the family is an absolutely good thing for the social development of our kids!

I won’t pretend that I know that extending the family into the schools will improve the learning of the kids. But I do know that the learning is not the only thing we worry about our kids and when schools deprive the family from entering the classroom, they lock us out of our kids’ lives for most of their walking hours. This has an impact on the kids’ ability to bring the school environment to enter the home, in return!

We have to accept that we’re all highly emotional and our feelings play a great role in our lives. By separating some of the environments in which we find ourselves during the day, we compartmentalize our emotions and don’t let them influence our behavior in different contexts, nor inspire us to connect the learning seamlessly as we move from one environment to another!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and stuff my daughter’s backpack with her favorite toys and books as well as refresh my memory how to do embroidery so I can stitch our family portrait into her backpack for her to carry always with her!

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About kima

Organizer: http://tedxkidsbc.com. Father. Agent of change. I learn for a living. Curiosity is my passion. Writing is my dream. I believe in the value of social media as a way to meet new people and love double espresso as a way to feel warm with old friends ;-)

Discussion

13 thoughts on “Please don’t take my blanket away!

  1. I understand exactly your point but (playing devil’s advocate) want to mention the space these things may take up. If the teacehr has to regualte what can come inin order to keep the classroom ‘safe’ then that defeats the object of the exercise. Perhaps it needs a ‘special space’ in each classroom so that these items can be there but ‘tidy’! (Yes I’m a control freak but at least I’ve owned up!) ;)

    Posted by Julia Skinner | January 11, 2011, 6:54 am
    • Thx Julia!

      I intended this post mainly as a metaphor how disconnected the two worlds appear and as a call for moving in the opposite direction.

      I realize having kids sitting at a table full of their favorite stuffies and toy cars or littered with family photos may be too distracting both for the teachers and the kids — though we may be underestimating the kids here! Still, I can’t imagine a wall where all kids can stick photos from their last vacation, pictures showing them play with their pet, or Christmas cards from friends, causing too much trouble for the teacher.

      This morning I dropped my older one at her school. I remembered the school organized Christmas caroling for the neighborhood a month ago and everyone seem to have enjoyed it very much — I could see no photos from the event on the walls as I was walking out the door. :-(

      I’m sure there were some posted on some notice board in some part of the building, but it is sad to isolate them like that when we could plaster the walls with them and many more celebrating the families and the neighborhood, reducing the gap between the two worlds.

      Doing this might — it just might! — enable learning to circle back and forth as kids switch context.

      Posted by kima | January 11, 2011, 2:32 pm
  2. Oh Kima, I would have expected a woman to write such a fun and emotionally attached feeling post about her girls and work and school and their learning.. Sorry, not trying to gender bias the issue ;) I mean to say, you are getting better and better at this stuff..!!! I LOVE how you compare hotel cubes at work in our adulthood to leaving family behind in our childhood classrooms.. How is the same family that was supposed to be a distraction while our initial learning supposed to be a motivation for us to stay focused on our work later in life..? Nice thoughts.. I also got a glimpse into your daily “chaos” of a typical work day with your little ones!! Treasure these days :)

    Posted by Heart | January 11, 2011, 2:28 pm
    • Thanks Rachana, I am definitely taking this as a compliment! ;-)

      It is an irony that in a “flat world” in which I can feel connected with you across a continent or with someone on a yet another continent — not to mention engage on Twitter with the astronauts on the International Space Station ;-) — I feel so disconnected from my daughter’s school (or any school for that matter).

      Last night we put a collage of family photos on her Agenda book she carries every day with her and her teacher uses to send notes and other communication back and forth and I could see in her eyes she was excited to “bring” her family with her to school ;-)

      Posted by kima | January 11, 2011, 4:15 pm
  3. Our schools would like us not to feel, and so we wind up not knowing all sorts of things – how to feel, how to communicate our wants and needs, how to be comfortable alone, how to talk with others, as well as with ourselves, from a place of honesty. In our schools, we don’t teach ourselves how to feel without judging, so we multiple our anger by frustration and divide our happiness by questioning whether or not its good enough. We teach ourselves to look at our emotions as others look at them – as distractions and impediments to scientifically-proven teaching and learning.

    Education and life are interdependent, as are school and life. School, however, seldom acknowledges this symbiosis and winds up creating the negative attitudes it has to confront.

    Work has to have personal meaning for the adults and kids in a school. Emotions have to be recognized, acknowledged, valued, and used in teaching and learning about ourselves and our surroundings. School is too Harrison Bergeron right now, as if the purpose of an education is to pass enough tests to inoculate us to our feelings and the real problems facing our communities. Maybe such conflict and oppression will help create great art, but that art won’t be made in schools.

    We need to find ways to help kids and adults talk with their leaders about opening up education to personal meaning and about opening up schools to the people we are, not the high-achieving students we’re expected to be on-schedule and without much fuss. How do we hold our leaders accountable for humane schools as they desperately try to rescue themselves and students whose relationship to the schools they misunderstand?

    I’ll close with something more positive:

    When I thought I was going to have an interior room one year, without any windows, I looked for ways to make the classroom feel more like a home. I found this idea where students brought in photos taken from inside their homes, looking out of their windows. Students without cameras would get disposable ones from the teacher or school. Once the photos were developed or printed, the class would photo-mosaic part of a wall to make the pictures into a window looking out on to all of their neighborhoods at once.

    All the best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 11, 2011, 11:13 pm
    • Thanks Chad!

      Your comment reflects much of what I’ve learned since I stopped taking education for granted and started asking the question “What is the real value of education?”

      Being born and raised in a country that was run by a communist regime, I am surprised how many parallels one can draw between that system and the system of education today.

      Admittedly, the system I grew up in was the softer socialist variant with a flavor of democratic freedoms most other communist countries didn’t enjoy, but it was nonetheless based on the Marxists ideas that humans can be socially shaped and any innate differences can be ignored or flattened out through indoctrination and other social tools.

      Using the word dehumanizing is too harsh, as I know most, if not all schools are making the social development as part of their focus in the education of the kids, but I think the application of it is so limited — in ways you describe in your comment — that it causes more damage than any gains it may provide to the kids.

      Parents are big part of the problem, too, though! As we’re all too busy with our work schedules and such, rarely do we try to push our way into the schools!

      I believe the gap between the schools and the home is not wide because it was made that way, but because both groups started slowly retreating more and more inwards, causing an ever widening gap to develop. Much of this may have happened unconsciously or at least was not given much thought, given that each group had their eyes on something else — money and test scores being few examples. If a parent decides to cross the gap and engage with the school, I like to think that there will probably be little to no resistance on the other side of the gap! ;-)

      Great idea about the photo-mosaic wall, btw! I gather you did implement it, right? Or you didn’t get an interior room after all? If not, I think it is a great idea and many teachers should consider something similar, even for a classroom with windows!

      If we work on both sides of the gap to move few steps outwards, there is a hope we’ll reach a critical threshold when crossing the gap is effortless on each side, thus effectively removing the boundary completely!

      Posted by kima | January 12, 2011, 4:57 am
  4. I wound up with windows, and so instead I used glass markers to draw this quote from “The Kid” on those windows –

    I’m the kid who always looked out the window,
    Failing the tests in geography.
    But I have seen things far beyond just this schoolyard,
    Distant shores of exotic lands.

    I invited kids to bring in the photos, but I don’t think we got many. I didn’t stick with it – I was then a pretty traditional teacher teaching traditionally. For example, I picked and drew the quote.

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 12, 2011, 10:07 am
    • I personally like this better ;-)

      I’m the kid who has this habit of dreaming
      Sometimes gets me in trouble too
      But the truth is I could no more stop dreaming
      Than I could make them all come true

      After listening to the song for a hundredth time since you posted this comment ;-) I think I can say that I appreciate the struggle you may have felt in your early years as a teacher. I don’t think I would’ve listened to the song hundred times if I ran into it 5-6 years ago, though I would’ve probably still find it beautiful!

      Posted by kima | January 17, 2011, 3:21 am
      • That song is incredible. I love the version by Cry, Cry, Cry the best, though Art Garfunkel does a good job, too. In any case, we should spend more time dreaming in school with or without permission.

        I look forward to reading your thoughts on monoculture -

        All the best,
        C

        Posted by Chad Sansing | January 17, 2011, 10:48 am
  5. I was thinking the same thing as others, that a wall of families would help personalize the classroom. My students often bring in pictures of their siblings or family pictures and carry them around in their notebooks or bookbags. They love to run up to me and show me baby pictures. Basically, they bring their families to school with them whether we ask them to or not!

    I think that shows how important it is to, as you state, bring some of that family comfort into school.

    Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | January 22, 2011, 11:05 pm
    • I just found a school that seems to be doing just that — bringing the family and the community into the classroom http://windsorhouseschool.org/

      This is what they say about parent participation:

      Infants, toddlers and preschoolers are welcome at school with their parents, which helps maintain familial bonds between siblings and fosters empathy among the older children. Bringing entire families into the school helps build community.

      Just think of the benefits … “maintain familial bonds” … “foster empathy” … “build community” … these are all values a humane education and moreover a humane and democratic society should keep over any economic or political agenda!

      To quote Alfie Kohn:

      It’s time consuming and messy to be democratic, but it’s better than all the other alternatives

      Thanks for letting some of the democratic messiness in your classroom!!

      Posted by kima | January 23, 2011, 7:31 am

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