Today’s post was read before a live audience

Good news, friends. I’ve been absent from the blog lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. If fact, I’ve been writing quite a bit. I’m in the thick of classes in my journey to master the art of teaching, so that’s where my thoughts and words have been focused.

Last week, I took on the responsibility of setting an inspirational tone for one of my classes. I was the first to go unarmed–no visual aid or activity, and just had to gamble that my words would be enough. I was met with really positive reactions, so I’d like to share this with you now, just bear in mind there’s brief academ-ese.

The very best lesson I ever got about the stages of cognitive development of children was not from my first psychology professor. But she was there to witness it too.

My professor was a mousy little woman– frizzy hair, thick glasses. She had two daughters. One must watch out for psychologists with children. She had perfect living examples of the phenomena we were reading, and brought them into class periodically to demonstrate.

She fondly remembered the day she brought the pair to class when they were 6 and 3.

She took Big Sister to a desk, showed her two equally sized balls of clay.
“Which one is bigger?”
“They are the same size.”
The professor would then roll one of the balls out into a thin rope.
“Which one is bigger?”
“Mom, they’re the same size.”

She would then bring in Little Sister and offer two identical spheres of clay, and repeat.
“Which one is bigger?”
“They’re the same!”
She would roll one into a rope again.
“Which one is bigger?”
“That one!” She pointed to the rope.
“Because it’s longer.”
“Did I add anything to it?”
“Did I take anything away from that one?”
“So why is it bigger?”
“Mom, because it’s longer.”

My professor would then turn to the class and explain how the girls were at opposite ends of the preoperational stage. Big Sister had established conservancy, but Little Sister was not yet capable of abstract and symbolic thought.

It was then that Little Sister took the clay rope, wrapped it around the clay sphere, and held it up proudly saying

Indeed, the child’s growing mind is a fascinating place that we cannot define nor predict with certainty. Fast forward a few years, to my class.

This time she started with Little Sister.
“Tell me, are you a boy or a girl?”
“Mom, I’m a girl!”
“How do you know?”
“Because I have long hair and skirts, my bed is pink, and I listen to girl music.”
“Tell me, could you change yourself into a boy?
“Sure. I would play a lot of soccer and cut my hair.”

My professor thanked her, sent her to the corner wheely chair, and pointed out that Little Sister, now 6, was entering the concrete operational stage. Clay balls were long gone, but she still had a lot to go before the formal operations of hypotheticals and strategies. Or so we thought.

Enter Big Sister, now age 9.
“Tell me, are you a boy or a girl?”
“I’m a girl.”
“How do you know?”
Sigh. “Because I have a girl’s body.”
“Tell me, could you change yourself into a boy?”
Rolled eyes. “No.”

This is when my professor would have made the observation that Big Sister is comfortably in the stage of concrete operational thought. She will soon be tackling hypotheticals, strategies.

But before that could happen, Little Sister hollered from the oversized chair,
“Yeah you can! You can get A FAKE PENIS and put it over your VAGINA!!”

I don’t remember what my professor said, just her mortified face and the shades of red she turned when she heard the words and heard us roaring. I remember how Little Sister lit up when she heard the chaotic laughter she had wrought. She certainly understood the concept of a punch line.

I never forgot the stages, and from what I hear she never brought her daughters back to class. Little Sisters are what make our jobs fascinating and wonderful. We are perfect for our jobs because we, too, are fascinating and wonderful.

In the weeks we’ve spent together, it’s become abundantly clear that we are committed, adaptable, creative, diverse, group, complete with shining eyes. I need to be around people like you. Because I have seen the dark side. A place where fun was squashed by schedules, where art was a special hour once a week, where we as “teachers” of a group of 30 K-5th graders were to dutifully follow an over-programmed “curriculum” that was faxed to our boss from an office in Oklahoma.

This story takes place during “summer camp.”
What I mean was, it was daycare in a school gym.

Each week had a theme, each day had a sub-theme. But every Monday was bike day. Tuesday was gameboy day. Wednesday was squirt gun day. K-3 on one side of the gym, 4-5 on the other.

There was trivia time every morning to go along with the theme. Both age groups had designated questions. One week was CSI. I will give you a moment to take that in.

Questions designated for two of us to get the 4th and 5th graders interested were these:

1. What is studied in forensic entomology?
Insects, hair, pollen, spores, or fibers?
2. What is the name given to the study of fingerprints?
Entomology, trichology, palynology, or dactyloscopy?
3. What are the three subdivisions of forensic entomology?
(This is my favorite question)
Blood spatter, trace evidence, and toxicology,
OR medico legal, urban and stored products, and pests?

Our K-3 kids only had 2 questions that day. She tackled the first.
1. Can a person with Blood Type A safely transfuse to type O?
She talked about donating blood for sick or injured people, and explained that not everyone has the same kind of blood, just like we don’t all have blue eyes. Not bad. I read question 2 silently.
What chemical can be used by scientists to determine if an accelerant was used in the case of possible arson?
Ninhydrin, cyanide, carbon monoxide, or luminol?
I should have taken the first question.

“Okay last one, stay with me. Last one and then we can have morning snack! Has anyone heard of arson?”
One hand raises from the back and a voice earnestly answered,
“Yeah! He lives next door to me!”

I’d like to think the people who designed this ordeal meant well. I’d like to think they were employing a strategy to respond to the same problems we are. How will we engage kids for a whole day? A week? A month? What happens if they are bored? Are we being creative enough? How do we keep things modern and fresh? What do these kids need?

But their strategy was just like their book of summer trivia questions.
It had. No. Answers.

I spent the two weeks following that morning growing from frustrated to vocally indignant. The kids felt the same way. We were shackled, we were herded, we were robbed of creativity, dammit, we were oppressed.

I think now that if I could go back to that place (but you can’t make me) and I could turn down the volume of my outrage, I would hear a patient whisper. “Come here, my child.” And then I would extend my hand and say, “Nice to meet you, Señor Freire.” He would say, “Let’s talk about fascinating things,” and I would say, “Yes, wonderful.”

We have to practice critical pedagogy, pedagogy of the oppressed, or we send children to suffer the pedagogy of the bored and uninspired. Then they grow up into boring, uninspiring adults. So we must continue to be committed, adaptable, creative, diverse, and cooperative– for the students of the future, and the teachers too.


1 Comment

  1. November 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Love it

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