Forty hours a week is a lot for an adult, but routinely we put kindergarteners and elementary school kids through a forty hour work week and then ask them to do other activities on top of it all.
I was lucky enough to get to preview “Their Name Is Today” by Johann Christoph Arnold. He lays out a comprehensive case for childhood on every level – social, spiritual, psychological, and physical. Every child deserves a chance at childhood and every adult should not take themselves so seriously and walk alongside or play alongside a child.
One of the greatest problems the United States faces is declining quality of education. Teachers work very hard and quite a bit of money is poured into schools, neither seems to be working. Arnold’s work and book pave an alternate way that embraces childhood.
There is no way to simply put all the different facets of this book into a short post, but I want to provide a little summary. There are in my way of looking at it three main points: First) Play with children and let children play. Second) Exchange high pressure evaluation via testing for more individually tailored evaluation during play (and trust the teacher to be competent to perform such evaluations. Third) Relational development happens during play and work together with kids.
That’s a terrible summary. The book is much better. The idea that kids need to play and engage with the world around them should not come as a shock. Nor should it come as a shock that interacting with the world through play and work teaches kids far better than textbook work. Most teachers already know this and work play into their curriculums. Most parents can work with their kids and the kids teachers to help bring out more of their kids potential, but this is key: not potential to compete, potential to be happy and happy in community.
There may be sacrifices: technology, time, high pay off careers, and more toys – but this book quite rightly points out that kids never needed more toys or things or trips to disney, what they need is relationships with their parents and the joy that comes from learning to play with and enjoy what you have right now. I know a lot of adults that could learn from kids to play with box forts and legos and forget fancy dvd players and ever expanding televisions.
It isn’t rocket science – although that might be fun to play with at well. The biggest portion of this book that struck me was the call in its pages to rediscover a sense of wonder at the world – a sense of true blue exploration born of innocence and incredible curiosity.
But this book has one unfortunate side. It dwells in the realm of the philosophical, and while many would agree with me that it is compelling and a book that is needed to help us reimagine childhood, I cannot ignore that for policy makers who dwell in the world of statistics and must mince words with a constituency for whom the bottom line has become an ever increasing priority this book does not pack enough punch. The evaluation and the exploration of childhood is there as a theory, but they need to bring it out of numbers and help policy makers explore what can be done in an iterative process to change the way we view children and childhood as a culture.
What I hope they do next is to get out there and examine the schools in this crazy big world that we have and put together something of a policy recommendation that can help the 50 million kids that use the publics schools in this country. I want to be wrong and for this book to get out there and change minds and policies so that when my girls get to school they are able to have so much more than the kids that came before them. And to that end I say good luck and Godspeed to Mr. Arnold.