Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Best-Laid Plans of Grown-Ups

This after noon we took the grandsons to a playground. It's a lovely playground, one of many, many lovely playgrounds available in Seattle. Here's a look at just some of the cool playground stuff available there.

And here is how my oldest grandson spent a good chunk of his time.

It's a well-flogged truism that children will throw away the toy and play with the box, that they will reject the finest plastic construction that the toy industry can muster in order to play with ordinary household objects. I suppose that somebody could have forced my grandson to drop the stick and play "properly" but why, unless they were intent on imposing adult will and plans on a child. "I planned on you playing on that jungle gym over there. Now put down that stick and go have fun, dammit, or else."

The bottom line is that children have instincts and interests and involvement of their own. Adults can go nuts trying to direct that, and they can twist children's brains up by hammering them withy messages about what they are "supposed" to do. 

It is certainly true that there is room for adult direction and guidance. My grandson played with some of the equipment and played with his father, who did not try to tell my grandson what to do, but joined wholeheartedly in helping my grandson tap into his transcendent joy over swinging.

But if you go to the playground armed with an adult agenda that allows no room for the voice of the children, you are on the wrong path. The damage is evident by the time students land in my eleventh grade classroom and have trouble writing well because they are more concerned about what they are supposed to write-- what they are supposed to do to meet the requirements of the grown-ups' agenda-- instead of tying to get in touch withy what they actually think.

It is easy as parents or teachers to get caught up in the desire to see the tiny humans make the safest, wisest, best decisions. But that process has to include their own voice, their own aims, their own intentions and inclinations. That's not just how you honor their existent as thinking, feeling, sentient, individual human beings-- it's how you create future entrepreneurs, leaders, creators, makers, employees, employers, and people who are not inclined to elect raging tyrants out of desire to have "strong" leaders who will tell them just what they are supposed to do.

Yes, the world needs a certain amount of order and sense, and I am not advocating unleashing wild anarchic chaos on the universe (not today, anyway). But attempting to impose adult best-laid plans on every minute of children's lives is both evil and foolish. Evil, because every human's voice is a precious thing no matter how young. Foolish because-- well, I will give my grandson the last word with his ideas about how to use carrot slices.


  1. And yet, isn't that exactly what we're doing when we impose an adult-constructed one-size-fits-all "curriculum" on them for 12 years? Children don't lose this natural drive to learn when they hit 5 or 6 years old. As you say, we can facilitate...we can participate...but if we decide what, when, and how they must learn, we can't expect to see the innate love of self-directed learning to survive and thrive. As you saw, learning does NOT require the age of 2, 3, 5, 12, or 16. It just requires the freedom to do so with an encouraging adult as an occasional guide or facilitator.

  2. "... attempting to impose adult best-laid plans on every minute of children's lives is both evil and foolish." Well said. Correctly identifying such mundane behavior as "evil," brings to mind W.H. Auden's razor-like insight: "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table." So sad;so true. Ouch!

  3. I notice ther are no swings for the older kids, and the spinning platforms are long gone. Playground designs have been gutted of challenges and thrills in the name of safety. I'm not advocating ground glass, but a frisson of danger is fun for kids; look at the popularity of horror shows!