Can the world be divided into people who care about children’s perspectives and people who don’t? Can teachers be divided into those who listen to children and those who don’t? This is a dichotomy that my own experience of school led me to believe existed. Looking back at the commencement speech I gave as I left Bank Street College, I realized that I held this belief even as I entered teaching.
Years later, I’m pretty sure, there is no such clean line. To be sure, there are adults in this world who do not care much for the perspectives of children, even those who downright dislike children. And there are some teachers who feel that way as well, though I’m not sure I’ve actually met one. On the other end of the spectrum, there are adults and teachers who regard the voices of children very highly. Many adults actually build their lives around the experiences, interests, and needs of children—their own or other people’s.
How does this look though? How do adults show regard for the child’s experience? It seems that this can look and feel vastly different depending on the adult. Some adults are effusive and irreverant, childlike themselves in the presence of children. Others are firm and protective in their demeanor, compassionate and wise in their actions. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the adult’s way of caring and the child’s actual need.
In my 2006 speech I spoke about a need that all children have: the need to be heard. And I suggest that when children are not heard, they are experiencing a form of oppression. I go on to call this, “the mother and the child of all forms of oppression.” This is pretty dramatic. Is it true? How do adults reconcile the chid’s need to be heard and simultaneously protected? The child’s discoveries are crucial to their development as individuals, while at the same time their decision-making skills are not mature.
We must create classrooms where there is plenty of conversation, room for a diversity of experiences among students, room for discoveries, and room for mistakes. And yet, this place is not “the real, adult world.” It is a safe space maintained by caring adults.
How does the system—beyond the individual teacher—support the co-creation of inclusive, safe learning spaces by teachers, students, parents, school leaders, community organizers, politicians? Who cares enough to work together to try?
[image credit: law.yale.edu]