Saturday, July 27, 2013

Preserving Childhood 1: Present Day

 July 27th, 2013

    I found this shared to my Facebook  page a couple of days ago. I had never really thought of it in this way before, and I don't necessarily agree with it in a literal sense-a child well prepared with manners, family values, and a sense of responsibility is more likely to have those characteristics as net-positive qualities in adulthood, after all. So childhood is a "preparation" in a sense.


     But there is also an essence of childhood. Not just those preparations and a chronological progression through younger years, but  incidents and ingredients that shape the adult to be. These go into individual "growing up recipes" at different times, in varying amounts, and come from places dependent on family/geography/opportunity... The details are not identified as "ingredients" in the moment, but their inclusion or their absence leaves echoes in the final product. There isn't just one "recipe"-and not to keep using that word but it really is like food. There are so many types in so many different places and we know what we like and we know what we don't. Take a drive across the country, or up and down the coast, and you will come to regions that specialize in particular foods. Seafood, barbecue, apple pie...the folks who do this food right do it so right that you just know it. Wide varieties of food, and food done right exists in the same way that people do. All across the country an incredible variety of people formed out of true childhood exists. And the variety of ingredients that lead to good people are the true strength of this country. Remember "melting pot"? When was the last time you heard that reference to how our vast differences came together to make us strong? We are instead hearing about "standards" and how we don't measure up.

     Okay, my tangent alarm just went off. Food does that to me. My point is that there are childhood essentials specific to individuals. Some are similar or very close to the same, some are different, but they are like benchmarks that build into the adult. I mean all of it: earthworms, bonfires, broken windows, spitting watermelon seeds, fistfights, spankings, goes on and on.  Drive-ins and scary movies, those cheap juices in little plastic barrels, chores and bedtimes...The things that the world, family and neighborhood taught were vital. The things learned in school informed.

      The quote by Lester Laminack at the beginning of this piece puts words to my concerns about where we are headed as a country, what is being called "reform" in public education policy, and what it means for children. The differences between what I see and hear today and what I remember from my childhood, what I know of my father's (and his father's growing up) all give me a growing sense that the true benefits of childhood are being lost. They are being lost to the inequities of a "free market" economy that has made the experiences of childhood past harder to come by. They are being diminished by the unrealistic demands of education reform that seek to standardize children into a predictable commodity that will help to generate further profit:

     In a June 2011 speech to the graduating class of the private school her son Lukas attended, Christy Walton explained that her family became involved in K-12 education reform because their business—presumably Walmart—“was having trouble finding qualified people to fill entry-level positions” and         because the family believed that “the education being provided [in public schools] had been dummied     [sic] down.” - Christy Walton on Walton family interest in education

     If you want policy and future determined by a few ultra-wealthy and privileged folks who enjoy exclusive schools for their children and the best the world has to offer; if you want educational goals based on these same folks' frustration at not having the number of entry-level workers they need to support their own economic situation-then the Waltons are what you need. I personally want more for my students and my children. I want childhood returned to the kids who have lost it -many because of jobs and local economies disrupted by practices that force families into long hour/low wage jobs, and away from the chance to guide their children.


Part 2 



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