Thursday, December 27, 2007

"House Rools" and the Wisdom of Children

Though popular education is often reduced to being only about playfulness (and therefore neither serious nor rigorous) there is, nonetheless much truth in its use of playfulness. I like to remind people that in our first five years of life we learn language, social and motor skills and much more largely through play. I saw this first-hand when, in 1976, i studied with Wally Weng-Garrety, an early childhood educator at Dawson College who then got me a part-time job at the McGill Family Daycare where i worked on and off for the next four years. The childrens' day was one of perpetual play and i could see that every second of it was a learning experience. I have often wondered why it is that, as we grow older, we reduce the amount of play in our learning - in many cases reducing it to zero. Play is one of the most powerful pedagogies that we have. But it is the nature of play to be very hard to control as well as predict. And, since most mainstream mass education is about conformity before it is about learning, play moves to the bottom of the list. This is only a smidgen of my reasoning about the importance of play and why popular education values play and playfulness more than most other approaches to learning. Of course, with popular education, it is not play for playing's sake - rather it is about learning what power is, how to deal with power, develop one's own and both resist unjust uses of power as well as exercise justice (as well as a whole host of other dispositions such as compassion, kindness, etc.). All this to say that we should all look to children for daily lessons in play. They can be our teachers, those of us who have grown up and away from that time in life when all seems to be about play. I think artists and parents will know readily what i am talking about. So, it was with utter delight that J'net called my attention to our daughter's and her friend's "house rools" for a fort that they had built of blankets, sheets, chairs and futons. As you can see from the list above, written by our neighbour's youngest, their "rools" included:
  1. no war
  2. have fun
  3. eat candy
  4. smell bad
  5. be nice
Now how's that for a guide to right living? What would Marcus Aurelius or Lao Tsu think of that?


Adam Fletcher Sasse said...

Without romanticizing what kids are capable of, I think it is important to acknowledge their clarity of thought and simplicity of design. As an adult I regularly get all caught up in the complexities and mired down in what I see as the realities of the world I live in. My four-year-old is much calmer than that: "Come and play with me dad!" Forget about the dishes, the books, the car, the bills, and all that. Just play. From that place I can begin to learn from her, and that is where learning becomes a way of living, thus taking its form as popular, i.e. accessible, education. This is a great post - thanks for touching on it.

Chris cavanagh said...

Thanks, Adam, i appreciate the caution around romanticizing - something all too easy to do; pernicious even. Many adults have an unconscious stake in the kind of idealization of childhood that is romanticization. And i think that as this is applied to particular children we risk denying children their complexity and depth. Of course we love to share the cute stories, the "aw shucks" moments, as i have done with this post. But it's worth remembering that children display a much wider range of engagement with the world that includes moments of anger and even cruelty. All of which i see as part of how they learn to negotiate meaning in the world and, eventually, become meaning-makers in their own right.