I often wonder about this and I have to admit most of the time I don’t know the answer.
Most of the time my children are a mystery. A fascinating enigma that changes daily and taunts you to dare to try to understand it.
I also admit that I’ve had to ask for help. No shame admitting it. This is way too important. I believe that the closer I get to understand what drives my kids, what they think about, and how they feel about what they think, the better I can do my part: To be a parent. A father. A guide. A mentor. An educator.
So I read this about children:
“The child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is to be deepened; his is narrow experience which is to be widened. It is his to receive, to accept. His part is fulfilled when he is ductile and docile.”
I remember feeling uncomfortably comfortable with this view of children.
My role then is the most important, because I must make them mature citizens, and I must widened their experience. I need to give them so the empty vessel is fulfilled.
John Dewey, the famous American education reformer, said those words as a criticism, about the poor (and inaccurate) perception we have of our own children.
He actually thought very differently:
“The child is the starting-point, the * center, and the end. His development, his growth, is the ideal. It alone furnishes the standard. To the growth of the child all studies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the needs of growth. Personality, character, is more than subject-matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realization, is the goal.”
The child then is a being in development, growing everyday, learning and unlearning, quiet and screaming, failing and succeeding, stumbling and standing, easy and difficult all together, going round and round in motions that challenge our senses and our common sense. A child is a developing story with an unpredictable end that is always evolving.
So, what role do I play in that story? Who am I? the Author? a prop? the stage? The supporting cast? How long is this going to last?
The school Reggio Emilia (I feel bad calling them a school because they are so much more) sees becoming as a process:
“One has to respect the time of maturation, of development, of the tools of doing and understanding, of the full, slow, extravagant, lucid and ever-changing emergence of children’s capacities; it is a measure of cultural and biological wisdom”
Ok, I understand how hard is this process of growth, and what it demands of me (patience, wisdom, humor, endurance, empathy, creativity, time, to mention a few, very few)
But each child is different, involved in his or her own growth process… and I have 5 of them. This is getting harder and harder.
Going back to understanding them and the role I play in their life. I know at least that I need to educate them, I need to be actively involved, making decisions about what they need to know… I’ve been there before, I’m older and I know what’s best for them. They are not as interested in learning, as they are in watching youtube and playing.
And then I read what Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia methodology had to say about that:
“Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode.”
So, my job is provoque a sense of discovery, where they are inspired to create and question, and then is when their interest will show unlimited fuel. I’ll set up easy tasks, so they can resolve them easily and encourage his and hers motivation for learning… until I read:
“Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks, and they plan poorly. When they face difficulties, they become confused, lose concentration, and start telling themselves stories about their own incompetence. In the long run they disengage, decrease effort, generate fewer ideas, and become passive and discouraged. Children with strong belief in their own agency work harder, focus their attention better, are more interested in their studies, and are less likely to give up when they encounter difficulties than children with a weaker sense of agency”
I’m even more confused. This child is a full functioning, capable being who is interested in learning, who likes challenges and who has a sense of community. Ok. But I see how childish are their fights and how much conflict they have between them.
In a book called Choice Words, I found an interesting quote:
“Citizens in a democracy have the convictions and enthusiasms of their own responses, yet they are willing to keep an open mind about alternate points of view, and finally are able to negotiate meanings and actions that respect both individual diversity and community needs. To overcome our tendency to follow authority blindly, we need to develop confidence in our own ability to interpret and judge what we observe around us in the world. But confident and outspoken individuals must be complemented by a tradition of conduct for reconciling differences among their responses.”
Who is this child I asked myself at the beginning.
This child is someone who is much more than I thought she or he would be. More capable, more interesting, more deserving of my attention and my respect. This child is embarked in her own and his own development journey, a growth process that is going to be bumpy.
This child will need my help. Not as a know-it-all disciplinarian. This child will need help interpreting complex and ambiguous situations, where certain concepts might be hard to get, at first.
This child needs me to give just what she or he needs and not more. Be there for the initial push and then let go…
Actually, is not so much who is this child, because the answer changes daily, the question is who will I be in her/his process?
Like Sir Winston Churchill once said:
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”