Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Learning To Be Wrong

Jeannie Felker, a teacher at the Antioch School, recently wrote something like “We have to move out of the way, so knowledge can move in. We have to make space for learning to happen.”

And I thought, how wise she is! What inspirational words! Recently, I have come to realise that much of what I learned about autonomous education came from observing her over 13 years ago. It also made me remember how much I had forgotten the deeper I went into life’s labyrinth.

Jeannie often answered questions with questions. She listened to their ideas. She took action on transforming those ideas into reality. She encouraged them to solve their own problems by having meetings in which every child could engage in discussion and debate. Finally, she trusted a bunch of five year olds.

Once again, I admire what extraordinary effort she put forth on behalf of the children she “taught.” It takes such a huge amount of self restraint to witness a child’s work. I constantly find myself pulling my hand back as Winston struggles with a puzzle piece or a toy. It is sometimes uncomfortable to be fully engaged and present in a child’s self-discovery.

As a parent, I want to be active. I want to help. I want to teach him. I don’t want him to struggle. I have to step back and realise that I actually help him more by supporting him as he works through the frustration. Still, I find myself needing to help him climb the ladder at the playground or use the glue more efficiently or line the sticker up precisely. In these times, I force myself to stand back. To observe. To facilitate rather than instruct. To share his celebration when he succeeds. To bear witness to victory he has won for himself with his own hard work. And when there isn’t a victory, to applaud the effort and evaluate the mistakes.

I realise how easy it is to explain everything to a child. But then the lesson is learned externally rather than internally.

I am now discovering that I am also occasionally wrong. And this is okay. I am a human being after all - we all make mistakes. I learned this recently when we were playing with dominoes. I doing simple matches. The red square matches the red square, etc. Suddenly, he wanted to do it by himself. I said okay. So I sat quietly next to him and watched. Then he made a mistake. He put the green triangle next to the black bar.

“That doesn’t look like a green triangle. Were you looking for this piece? “ I offer him the green triangle.

“No,“ he replies putting a red square next to the black bar.

“The black bar is over there.” I say, tapping the correct piece.

“Yes,” he says putting a purple circle next to the red square.

At this point, I’m getting really frustrated. I would like him to do this the right way. We’re supposed to be learning something here! So, I fold my hands, take a deep breath and commit to observe him. He persists in doing it wrong. He does it wrong, wrong wrong. Until finally, he puts a orange rectangle next to a orange rectangle. I let out a small sigh of relief. I think to myself, ah he can do this. He can grasp patterns!

Finally, he finishes. I look at his string of dominoes. It is an extremely complex pattern. (Green triangle, black bar, red square, purple circle, black bar, yellow diamond, purple circle, orange rectangle. Orange rectangle, purple circle, yellow diamond, black bar, purple circle, red square, black bar, green triangle. )

“Oh, well done!” I exclaim. He smiles. He looks a little surprised that I’m so tremendously excited. I’m grateful that he was so focused that he didn’t pick up on my internal agitation. I read out his pattern to him. “I like the way you did that. It’s a nice pattern.”

“Yes, it is. You’re right,” he says.

“Want to do another one?”

No - I want to play with dinosaurs.”

And I realise he was doing it right. It was his way. It was his idea. And it was brilliant.

The way I had been playing with the blocks was too simplistic. I was being boring. I’m so glad that children can sometimes make space for parents to learn something. I can’t believe he will turn three at the end of April. I have so much more to learn from him. We're finally learning something here.

1 comment:

boodafli said...

too cute! the other day, hannah and i were foolin around on the floor. she kept pulling my shirt up, and i thought she was after nums, but she kept flopping her head onto my stomach, and going mmmmmmmm. mmmmmm. it took about 4 times for me to realise she was trying to zerbert me! i laughed for like, 10 minutes, and of course, because i was laughing, she kept it up. it was great.