"Education Is A Process Of Living"
21 March 2023 | 12:52 pm

var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};

Recently, one of our toilets stopped flushing: the chain that connects the tank lever to the flapper had broken. I cycled to the hardware store and located the replacement part I needed. Back home, I turned off the water to the toilet, flushed the tank dry, removed the old part, installed the new one, and turned the water back on. Then, although I was confident I'd set things to rights, I gave it a flush, taking satisfaction in watching the tank empty and refill as it ought to.

I've made this simple repair a number of times in my life. I remember my roommates and I panicking a little when it first happened in college. We were all slightly afraid of our landlord, plumbing repairs were not in our budget, and the internet didn't yet exist, but between the five of us young men we figured it out. I've not asked any of them, but I expect that the world is today populated by dozens of flappers that we have collectively replaced with our own ten hands.

I'm not a plumber, but I've learned repair a toilet. I can also snake drains, replace faucet handles, and know when to put my tools away and call in a professional. 

As a boy, I admired my elders' knowledge about the world. They knew how to fix things, cook meals, drive cars, grow vegetables, chop wood, fold laundry, and operate lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and can openers. They inspired me to want to do those useful things myself.

Rudolf Steiner, the founding philosopher of the Waldorf school pedagogy, built his approach upon the idea that young children ought to be be immersed in environments in which they are surrounded by adults engaged in practical day-to-day activities and projects. Rather than assigning tasks to children, the adults' role is simply to go about their business of living, including children when they wish to be included and answering questions. Not only do children learn the basic skills of life in this way, but they also see that participating in practical day-to-day activities and projects are desirable acts of belonging, of community.

Parents often complain that their children refuse to tidy up their rooms or help out around the house, something most of them do, even eagerly, around our preschool classroom. I expect that's because we parents so often expect them to do it alone, which is unnatural, or we treat it like something undesirable, chores to be done grudgingly as an interruption to, rather than as a part of, our lives. 

As the great John Dewey wrote, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living." I'm happy to be an adult who can do things for himself, but that was never my goal, nor is it the goal of our youngest citizens. They are motivated by belonging and doing which is what makes life worth living.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

Work And Hobbies
20 March 2023 | 2:52 pm

var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};

I enjoy cooking. I enjoy eating out as well, but the truth is that I'm always a little disappointed when 3 p.m. rolls around and I realize I won't get to make anything because we have a dinner invitation.

I have friends who dislike cooking. They say prayers of gratitude for delivery, take-out, and cold cereal.

And then there are those who feel trapped by cooking. These are often parents who feel the daily pressure to prepare three squares a day for the family. Sure, there may have been a time when they enjoyed cooking, and that day may return once the kids are fending for themselves, but they now find themselves on an endless, and often thankless, treadmill. 

For folks in the first two categories, cooking is either a hobby or something easily avoided. For those in the third category, however, cooking is work. I had a friend once tell me, "That's not cooking; it's meal prep." Long ago ago, I did a similar thing with gardening. I unconsciously began to label the things I enjoyed doing -- like tending the roses -- as gardening, while I considered everything else to be yard work.

As a culture, we value work. We demonize those who won't or don't work. We fret that our children won't embrace the work ethic. Many of us identify ourselves, at least in part, with our job title. There is a widely held belief that work has a moral benefit for both the individual and society and that hard work elevates us, even when it is obviously grinding us down. Indeed, we tell our children that they can be or do anything they want, just so long as they're willing to work for it.

At the same time, surveys of Americans regularly find that between 50 and 80 percent of us report that we are disengaged from, dislike, or outright hate our jobs. This isn't just a post-Covid or "great resignation" phenomenon. Indeed, both of those phenomena tend to be more about new opportunities for people to give up the old job and try something else. No, our dissatisfaction with work goes back decades, maybe centuries. It's not just "lazy kids" or creeping "socialism," but all of us, or at least more than half of us, who plug away only because we feel we must.

So many come to resent the work in our lives that the word work has become synonymous for feeling compelled to do things that you would rather not be doing. It's not hard work we resent, but rather the compulsion, the tedium, the repetition, the endlessness of it. There's always another damned meal to prepare. The weeds never stop growing. And we work ourselves into philosophical pretzels to convince ourselves that grimly sticking to it is a virtue. We might even grit our teeth and pronounce, despite it all, "I love my work!" because, after all, work is a moral good and resenting it is, therefore, a moral failing.

This isn't just a problem with what is insultingly called "unskilled labor." You can find this attitude toward work everywhere: people with their heads down, going through the motions, and feeling trapped, both by the work itself and by the morality we've built up around the mythology of the so-called work ethic, which in part contains the corollary of "don't complain."

I know a man who literally works in a coal mine, a job that is the very definition of hard, dirty work. He rarely talks about what goes on down in the mines because, as he says, "It's the same ol' same ol'," but one day he regaled us with a long, detailed, and exciting story about how he had figured out how to overcome an unexpected and challenging obstacle. He felt stimulated and proud. He didn't say, "That's why I love my work," but his whole attitude told that story.

It's not work we resent, but rather the mind-numbing, repetitive nature of so much of what we call work. When we get to use our critical thinking skills, when we get to make real decisions, when we get to see that our work makes a real difference: that's when we are truly elevated. It's not the work that's important, it's the knowledge that we are doing something meaningful, either personally or for the greater good.

I've spent most of my adult life amidst young humans who work as hard, if not harder, than anyone I've ever known. They don't do it for money. They don't do it because they've had tasks set for them. They don't do it because it's always joyful. On the contrary, every day involves conflict, pain, and tears. They do it because what they are doing, their play, is deeply meaningful. In everything they do, they see the difference they make in their world, for themselves and for others. They are thinking critically and making real decisions.

I understand how people might look at our play-based preschool and wonder how the children will ever learn about hard work. And I know that most of the children will move on to public schools that are all about learning the harsh lessons of the work-a-day world. Most of them will learn the lessons of feeling trapped, of dealing with it, of playing the mind-games required of the so-called work ethic, of pretending it's all gardening, when it's clearly nothing more than yard work. 

Yet still I persist in the radical idea that childhood is for play. The coal mine may be coming. The grindstone may be in their future. But I will not be the person to subject them to it because my hope and expectation is that the children who come my way will go on to live meaningful lives. I want them to know what it feels like to be self-motivated, to be lifelong learners, to be connected to the purpose behind what they spend their time doing. I want them to know that if they find themselves in jobs that don't provide that, then they can find hobbies that do and that it's perfectly okay for one's hobbies to stand at the center of one's life's work. 

The man who works in the coal mine builds motorcycles. He once found a photograph of a bike he admired, tacked it up on the wall of his garage, then spent his evenings and weekends building his own, perfect replica. He prides himself on doing it on a budget, which meant that he sourced parts from classified ads and junkyards that he then refurbished himself. And when he couldn't find the part, he literally manufactured it right there in his own garage, often taking months getting it just right. 

He is playing, just as the young children play: working hard, thinking critically and creatively, overcoming challenges, and learning. "We are here on this earth to fart around," writes Kurt Vonnegut, "don't let anyone tell you different." That is what I want the children to know. That is what I wish everyone knew.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

Doing Harmful Things In The Name Of Schooling
17 March 2023 | 1:38 pm

var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};

The long-term effects of the things we do to children in schools is a notoriously difficult thing to capture in research.

Generally speaking, however, we as a society have concluded, based on our collective behavior and with little evidence, that more academic training at earlier ages is the way to go. We assume that if we want kids to be good at school (a dubious goal at best) then we must give them lots of practice in preschool, which has lead in recent decades to two-year-olds being expected to sit at desks to be the targets of formal literacy and mathematics training. It has lead to our youngest citizens spending the bulk of their days indoors, focusing increasingly on things like worksheets and memorization drills. 

Many of us, including readers here, have looked on with horror. Preschoolers are simply not developmentally ready for this type of schooling. We see evidence that these unrealistic pressures are one of the leading causes of the current spike in childhood anxiety and depression. When we point any of this out, when we say that the push toward academic preschools is harmful to children and prevents them from working on the foundational social-emotional learning that young children need, proponents of top-down, adult-directed academic style schooling insist that it's the price we must pay for the long-term benefits, especially for disadvantaged children. They point to studies that show that children who are exposed to these "school readiness" types of curricula have a leg up with things like letter recognition and print awareness.

They can legitimately assert this because the research on the short-term effects consistently shows that children from academic preschool programs do enter kindergarten with certain advantages over those who have spent their preschool years playing. The part of the research that they ignore is that whenever an attempt has been made to study the long-term impact, we see that those advantages disappear rather quickly leaving the drill-and-kill kids largely indistinguishable academically, and worse off by other measures, from comparable peers who were not enrolled in academic-based programs. 

This is a consistent finding, going all the way back to the Perry Preschool Project, still the gold standard for long-term research on the impact of preschool. This study continues to track low-income children from a play-based program since the mid-1960's. They were the first to find that academic advantages faded rapidly once the kids moved on to elementary school. It's a result that has been replicated repeatedly, right up to a recent study on Tennessee's Pre-K program for children from low-income families that not only recreated this result, but found that by 3rd grade the children who attended the academics based program performed worse on both academic and behavioral measures than classmates who were never in the program.

In other words, the Tennessee Pre-K program harmed the children it sought to help.

The children studied in the Perry Preschool Project, however, the ones who attended a play-based, child-centered program also lost their short-term academic advantages, but continued, into adulthood, to reap the benefits of their behavioral head start. They had fewer teenage pregnancies, were more likely to have graduated from high school, to hold a job and have higher earnings, to commit fewer crimes, and to own their own home and car. They are more self-motivated, better at working with others, and, generally speaking, are more personable. 

The key, I think, is that these kids got to play when they were young, which is the soil from which healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults grow. 

If you want to read more about the research into the harm caused by academic preschools, I urge you to take a look at this piece in Psychology Today from author and researcher Peter Gray.

I know that many of the people who read here do not need more research to tell them that young children need play and lots of it. We are in the classroom every day, seeing the benefits with our own eyes. But as the Biden Administration here in the US gears up to offer free universal state-run preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, there is a great danger that they will ignore the evidence in favor of yet more academic-style schooling for our youngest citizens. This will harm the children and it's harm that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

I also know that many people who read here will, however, hold their noses and support anything that offers free childcare for low income families. 

We are compassionate people. We know that the families of our low and middle-income students are struggling financially and free preschool, even free drill-and-kill preschool, will be a boon to them. Experience tells us, however, that nothing is really free, no matter what party is in charge. This "free" preschool will come with so-called "accountability" requirements that will invariably mean, among other things, high stakes testing (high stakes for those whose funding is on the line). This will mean sitting preschoolers in desks to be trained to pass tests. This will mean top-down school prep curricula, a grindstone that is completely inappropriate for these children who need to play. And we know from research that this will harm the children we seek to help. 

Still, many well-intended educators have told me that it is a price we should be willing to pay for the economic relief that universal preschool will provide low and middle-income families.

Indeed, one of the Biden administration's strongest arguments in favor of universal preschool is the economic benefits it will bring to families. I can stand fully behind free universal childcare. This is something we should have done long ago. But labeling this as "school," even "preschool," is a real and present danger to the children and families we are hoping to help because our society has consistently demonstrated that it will do harmful things to children in the name of schooling. 


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

More News from this Feed See Full Web Site