In response to Brent Larkin’s editorial in the Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer (“Failing grades of Cleveland schools off charts in latest state report card,” September 21, 2013):
Over and over again I read about the disparity found within the Cleveland city schools. So much money and research has been spent with hopes of solving this persistent problem. Each time I cringe. We already know what can heal this situation. The solution is not more research or new standards. I believe what is needed is simply more:
- Love bestowed upon each child beginning at birth. I wonder why infants are placed into the arms of drug addicts who can’t even look their babies in the eyes, or parents who believe that discipline means to slap a young child’s hands so they won’t touch anything. Why do we allow such parents to take their babies home and then expect a teacher a few years later to take care of the damages done during the first years of life?
- Time in nature. Children flourish when they have direct contact with nature. Study after study demonstrate how all areas of development are strengthened and how other important qualities such as resiliency, curiosity, vocabulary, connectedness with others and the world, etc., also emerge.
- Seeing each child, and letting the child learn to see him/herself as competent. This is honoring a child’s natural disposition. Each child has strengths, and when parents and educators acknowledge a child’s strengths, then the child begins to see them, too. Put into the vernacular of today, I ask, why do we assume that children need instruction? If children are wired to learn, then shouldn’t we honor this by created spaces for this learning to happen? This requires space to play in a nurturing and stimulating environment. For me this means, more nature, less plastic, uncluttered, full of beauty and clarity, stimulating with some challenges, rich with language, full of love.
In summary, children’s learning begins with love that nurtures each child’s natural dispositions. This first step nurtures the child’s spirit of self and connection that drives the child toward learning. In order to make this happen, we should no longer talk about instruction. Children are born to learn. They need to be with people who believe in them and in places that are naturally simple and beautiful, so they might see the value of each object or situation.
Reggio Emilia philosophy talks about the Hundred Languages of Children. This is what Cleveland children need – lots of experiences with art, music, movement, nature, explorations, and projects. And if I am able to dream, the school system must support early childhood educators, who should earn more money than tollbooth workers, instead of the other way around (which is what we have today). Cleveland school children do not need more instruction and standards. They need love and a caring, interesting world.
To make this happen, Cleveland children also need educators who are able to offer this kind of learning. But where is the training for such educators? Do you know that our state colleges only offer educational training for educators who will work with children from Pre-Kindergarten and up? Who is training the educators who will work with our infants and toddlers? This is the time that a child’s sense of self is created and self-awareness is grown. These become the heart of the child, the personality of the caring or the way of the bully. What is wrong with the education system, in my opinion, it that it is not looking at what the child really needs to flourish.
Today, I am holding up a stop sign and saying ENOUGH. It is time to stop doing what we have done in the past and begin looking at the child to guide what we already know needs to be done!