I had the most amazing experience of seeing Alfie Kohn himself last Thursday! It was an amazing and rare experience to listen to someone who is charged with such passion and dedication to the field of education – from a progressive stance. It is also refreshing to hear someone admit that becoming progressive is a process – once a traditional teacher of English Alfie has evolved into one of the most powerful promoters of alternative education pathways.
Seeing him made me want to share two things. One, a document that Alfie outlines key factors of progressive education and Two, a piece of writing I have been saving with the debate of using it for blog purposes or publishing or what have you…
Tonight, I have decided that it was worth sharing. So without further chattering:
One (The article from Alfie Kohn: “Progressive Education – Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find”)
A must read!!! Located at Alfie’s site:
Do not scroll further until you visit that link and read that article!!!! You should read his link! If you get anything out of this blog post, go there! But, if you have an additional extra minute read this:
Two (My piece of writing that I was reminded of when seeing Alfie, as I referenced him at the end of it):
The other day, I was reading Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.
I know, reading leisurely books is maybe not my strong point. I was recently informed I should read Gone Girl or take another stab at the George R.R. Martin series, Game of Thrones. But, instead I am reading Their Name is Today (Ok, and Always Looking Up but at a rate of about one chapter a week, so that may not count as a fun non-Early Childhood related book) and I am thinking I will read a book by Janet Lansbury next. C’est la vie. I am a little wrapped up in my field. Anyways while deeply engrossed in a chapter on “taking back childhood” it occurred to me that my dad has given me one of the best gifts of childhood, the lack of expectations. Don’t get me wrong it is not that he did not have a standard for us to live by but not in the same ways that children are held to expectations today (and when I was a child). And because of this I feel I was given the freedom as an adult to pursue what I was passionate about and set my own expectations for greatness. So what do I mean by this? I was held to the standard of being kind, compassionate, hard working, and respectful but I was never pressured to be the captain of the team, the honor student, the math-lete, the lead role in the musical, or prom queen. It wasn’t something that was ever encouraged or forced upon me. Don’t get me wrong. I played a few school sports. I muddled my way through a few years of soccer, my best goal being one I accidentally scored on my own team. I hung out with the brainy people as a quiz bowl team member or envirothon member, somehow having a knack for questions about the Jewish religion and soil. Don’t ask me why or how, I just did. I was involved in things… this group and that, etc. etc. etc. I wasn’t as privileged as some but I did have many blessings that some children may have not. I participated in life events of the typical public school child. And it is not to say I wasn’t rewarded for things or encouraged. Once my dad thought the idea of promoting good math grades could be motivated by a shrimp cocktail (it did work for a moment and it wasn’t the cocktail’s fault, I was really horrendous at math). And I had family attend my sport games on occasion or the banquets at season’s end. But, the reality was while I was at home or at school being a normal teenager some of my friends were being forced down paths they did not want or understand: the next prettiest, funniest, smartest girl ever. I dealt very little with that pressure and now I can look back and see how that has benefited me, even today. It is not to say don’t ever enroll your child into a class or sport. It is to say honor them in not creating every experience into a pressure zone or competition. I see so many children today being pushed to go above and beyond for reasons that are far from intrinsic. My greatest accomplishments were ones I desired to achieve on my own. It turns out that they were things that my family could be proud of too but that wasn’t the main motivation for them. I did not work hard so that I could obtain praise, trophies, ribbons, awards, etc. But, I also did not crumble to the point of no return when I failed. Today we teach children that failure is life ending. We teach them to feel pressure from the very early years of life. How many letters can you name? What accelerated reading level are you at? What color belt did you earn? How many goals did you score? Did you make it to the finals? Are you scholarship material? It never ends! The pressure for excellence is intense and it is taking a toll on humanity. Children are programmed from the very beginning to not be comfortable with failure and live up to expectations at all times. But, as adults I think we are missing out on how this impacts children emotionally and mentally. Give children the gift of finding joy in their own accomplishments, step back from creating a child that needs a trophy to feel whole.
Fuel for your fire:
- Alfie Kohn deserves mounds of credit for helping educators stray away from empty extrinsic praise. Take a moment to explore “5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job”: http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
So all in all – props to the great parents, educators, and great change-makers of the world!