When I work at Utah State I walk right through an elementary school. Well, not right through the school, per se, rather the grounds of the schools. OK, not really the grounds of the school, but the kids spill out onto the grounds of the university, and I walk through... Anyway, I walk past a bunch of little kids, that is what I'm trying to say.
Today it was organized chaos, instead of the beautiful pure chaos I usually see. Today the kids had adults with them, and there were all sorts of interesting things going on. I happened to walk by a wading pool filled with marbles. There were some pvc pipes nearby and it looked like some interesting experiences were about to take place.
I glanced at the kids and their eyes were filled with excitement, but at the same time, one of the adults was speaking.
“These three were climbing trees, so they have to sit out.”
I didn't dare look at the kids' faces because deep down I'm a softie. If I saw the look on their eyes, it probably would have ruined my morning.
Since these kids were climbing trees, they couldn't participate in the learning activity.
Logically I can see the reasoning. If the kids were to fall out of the trees the school might be held responsible, parents might sue, blah blah blah. Plus, it's hard to keep track of fifteen 7 year olds. If you allow some kids to go off and play, the next thing you know everybody is going to want to play.
But then again, they are kids! Kids and trees go together like socks and sheets, right out of the dryer. They are drawn to each other, and there is a lot of warm clinging. But now these kids have to miss out on the learning activity because they committed the abominable sin of exploring.
I had a similar experience the other day with my son. We had a confessional session out in the garden. It didn't start out that way. I was working, he was working, and when he does anything that requires concentration, he hums.
So there we are, working, humming, thinking; and suddenly the humming stops. There is a moment of silence, then the confessional.
“Sometimes I just have songs going through my head”, my son said, sounding a little sad and ashamed. “I just can't stop humming.”
I wanted to tell him I loved his humming, probably because I knew it wouldn't last forever. But I didn't say anything because I could tell he wanted to say something else. Sure enough, he went on.
“My teacher makes me stay in during recess if I hum. I have to write “I will not hum.” 20 times on a paper.”
Now for all of you who are long time readers, (or should that be “both of you who are long time readers”? :), you know that I've just written a book. Writing is part of my 'trade'. And my son is being taught that humming is bad, and writing is a punishment.
Now I know that the second bit is false, writing can be loads of fun. Heck, I'd like to see writing passed out as a reward. And while the first bit about humming is sometimes true, it's also often false. I enjoy a good hum every once in a while, and should probably do it more often. I think physiologically it lightens your step. There is something about nerve endings being vibrated by your head that... Ok, I'm making that up.
Anyway, this post doesn't have much of a point, except for that sometimes I'm convinced that school often does as much harm as good. You can learn a lot by climbing trees. You can learn a lot by exploring. You can learn some by sitting at a desk all day, but is that the most valuable way to spen their time? To spend their childhood?
There are movements out there to get away from the old style of teaching. We live in an information age, and yet we are still learning and instructing as if we were an industrial one. I hope we aren't so entrenched in the old ways that it takes us decades more to move on.