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!

  4. From the mouth of a child.

    Grace VanderWaal, a superstar at 12, wrote and performed a song on that topic. She turned 14 this month and she's on her first multi-state sold-out concert tour. In her first song she wrote when she was ten or eleven, she also sings about not playing by the rules (others make for her). That song "I Don't Know My Name" was the fifth most watched YouTube video of 2016. When Grace was 12, she won America's Got talent in 2016, and the Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist. When she was 13, she won the Next Big Thing Award from the Teen Choice Awards and the Rising Star Award from Billboard Women in Music in 2017. In December 2017 while still 13, she was MTV's Push Artist of the Month for December.

    And it's clear she did it her way. She made her own decisions along this path to fame and fortune.

  5. My mother wanted me and my sister to make the 'safest, wisest, best' decisions AND she was phenomenally bad at knowing what those were. If I've done anything good and decent as an adult, it's been that I've tried to honor my kids' interests, instincts, intelligence, goodness, and integrity. Or, to be blunt, I've let them do dumb, risky, silly, useless, messy, and annoying things. And sometimes those things have turned out to be brilliant and fun and clever and cool.

  6. Adults, particularly teachers, are advised on the best ways to "teach," by the so called media, who didn't spend their lives preparing for the career, spending countless years in school, & learning the pedagogies that are best suited for children. Montessori had the best ideas in letting children explore, study what intrigued them, and let children evolve with the ideas that they knew what was best for them. Children have natural curiousity and love everything around them. We give children no room to find themselves, explore what they love, nor learn at their own pace. We are killing creativity in our country.

  7. The belief that allowing children to direct their own learning would "unleash wild anarchic chaos on the universe" is a major source of the "one-size-fits-all standardized education" many of our children are forced to experience. PLEASE read Peter Gray's book, Free to Learn, for a deeper understanding of the advantages of self-directed learning. This is not "pop" education--the book is filled with research that should, but probably won't, reshape the perception of the role of adults in facilitating learning. The first thing that must change is the belief that learning requires teaching!

  8. I've wondered on occasion if adults who work with children should take an oath similar to what used to be the Hippocratic oath... First, do no harm.

    So much of what we do 'for' kids is actually being done 'to' them. It's not fair, it's not okay. Unless we'd all been through it, no one would believe it even happens.

    Think about being treated like a child in your workplace. How long would that last before either a series of lawsuits or people just walking out on their employers?

  9. Even before I opened the link, I predicted the toy would be a stick. Sometimes simpler is better. It reminds me of a time when we were visiting friends whose son is the same age as my son. Despite computers, tv, legos, etc, the boys spent most of the day dueling with sticks. A good lessonin allowing kids the freedom to chose and to follow their own path, instead of one imposed by parents, teachers (not always by choice) and the powers that be in government.