First Person

There is such a thing as too much solitude, no question.  Many people have it — while some good souls find themselves dragged under by the endless demands of others with little time left for themselves.  The sword is sharp on both sides, and like anyone with a bit of sense knows, it’s best to stay clear of the edges of sharp swords.   Moderation, in media res, and so forth.

“You have to get out more,” she said.

“Without a doubt,” he, I, they said.    

I did some research on a humanistic educational theory that parents developed to bring a love of life and beauty back to the young children of their war torn region. Reggio Emilia, as it is called, centers, like my program, on listening to what the children care about and helping them pursue it in all its colors, flavors, quirky child-driven nuance.   Used mostly for very young children, it sets them on a path of loving nature, and creativity, and gets them in the habit of treasuring and following what they love.   Following what children love was not a major characteristic of life under Mussolini, or Hitler, for that matter.  Following what you love, with attentive adult guides, is probably the best way to learn, though.

I was concerned, before I first started doing the workshops, that today’s children, watching an unprecedented amount of flashy content on TV and other screens, would not be creative, would ape what they see in video games and the like.   I was relieved to see the creativity flow with little reference to the media they consume all day.  In mixed groups, girls and boys and different ages, even violence, a signature of our culture, was not pronounced in the animation they made.  Kids played with the materials, experimented, thought up ideas, tried them, piggy backed on other ideas.  They were protean in their creativity and had little inclination to look back and refine even their most brilliant ideas; they had new ideas they wanted to try out.

First person– everybody is the protagonist of their own life, wants to be, needs to be appreciated as unique and special, even if only by one other person.  The billion blahgs and facebook pages demonstrate this deep human need to be seen as special.   Now we’re back to Reggio Emilia.  Each child in that classroom is treated as a unique and equal partner, no more fascist hierarchy where obedience is do or die. Some kids are verbal, some kids are builders, mechanics, engineers, some need to move all day, others to sit quietly.  Reggio Emilia, from what I can tell, embraces these differences, recognizes the value of each style as having something important to contribute, lovingly encourages the individuality of each kid in the context of a caring, sharing community.

I sent two friends my quick reaction to the tuition of one of a couple of NYC schools that practice the Reggio Emilia approach.  I prefaced the number with a “youch!” or an “ulp!”.  One friend wrote me back that everybody’s got to make a living and suggested I was being stubborn and foolish for not working with people who share my beliefs, even if they work for the children of parents who pay $39,000 tuition for kindergarten.  He had a point.   The other fellow sent me a link, which is here.  

The author of the linked piece describes the Reggio Emilia philosophy, lays out its origins in a war ravaged Italian village, and describes its embrace in some of the most expensive private schools around.   It goes on to suggest that maybe the approach would be appropriate for children raised in the war torn slums of our nation.  My thought exactly.

I have been chided for my prejudice against the fucking striving rich before, and will certainly be taken to task for it again.   In its way it’s as bad as being a racist, I suppose, to assume that because you devote your life and energies to the maniacal acquisition of wealth you are a shallow person.  Everyone wants the best for their children, after all, or most people do, and the children of the wealthy have as many needs, and troubles, as the children of the poor.  Well, maybe not quite as many, but close.   You can have a parent who is a treacherous and destructive asshole either way, for one thing.  

Of course, your odds are much better of having a frustrated parent wallop you if you grow up in a dangerous slum where that parent fights a war every day to put macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets on the table than if you grow up in a comfortable situation.  A nanny, governess or other caretaker will be much more circumspect about socking a kid, in my experience.  But this is a cheap paragraph, its point minimal and somewhat peevish, so let us move on.  

“Round things up, Bubba, you have a lot on your checklist to do before you set out today,” an imaginary chaperone chimes in.  

The children of the poor are a problem to be dealt with, whereas the children of the well-to-do— them that’s got shall get.  Schools for the children of the poor generally suck.  The kids come to school with all kinds of problems the schools are not equipped to deal with and society clearly has a lot of other priorities– and not a whole lot of use for the masses of poor people who live and have kids in slums.  The parents and grandparents of these children are not equipped to deal with many of their problems, how can the children be expected to file in, sit quietly and read books, not fight?   How can public school teachers be expected to be teachers, mediators, social workers, child psychologists able to treat multiple patients at once in real time while motivating the fifth and tenth generation children of the hopeless to do well on the standardize exams most of them will fail?  

So public school comes to stand in for “school for poor people’s kids, hopeless prison prep schools” and alternative schools, pitted against the public ones as competitive Free Market models, often funded by the public dollar, are seen as the solution for everybody else.  A handful of the best of the poor kids, able to get scholarships or vouchers of some kind based on merit, get to go to these schools and — will you look at how well they seem to do!  These scattered successes by poor kids given the chance to succeed are touted as proof that public education has failed, like the rest of non-privatized social endeavor in our democracy.

Sure, it’s a question of priorities, but it’s also, as many will be quick to point out, just the way things actually are in a free and competitive society.   Few will be more than momentarily enraged that a group of powerful ideologues plunged the US into an unprovoked decade-long war, based on a new casus belli, “pre-emption”, to the tune of hundreds of thousands maimed and killed and trillions of dollars spent, literally.  Trillions are each one thousand billion.  Unlimited money for liberty, not a cent for tribute!     

“You’d do better to wrap things up than to go on in this vein, everyone knows you’re mad as hell, barking mad, in fact, woof! woof!, but like the rest of us you’re just going to fucking take it,” says whomever.  

Yes, of course.  And I have a long list of things I need to do now, excuse me.

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