At the kind invitation of Chuck Eckman, the dean of libraries and university librarian at the University of Miami, I gave a presentation about ‘Philosophy of Childing’ on Friday. Again the theme was education — in this case, how is it that children’s natural learning powers and passions are all too often squelched?
The intimate setting allowed for some great given and takes among the diverse participants. There were quite some luminaries on hand to weigh in, including Harvey Siegel, philosopher of education from Harvard, Allan Casebier, phenomenologist and philosopher of film (who is a big fan of Socrates Cafe and paved the way for my visit, Isaac Prilleltensky, the university’s dean of the department of education (and a sponsor of my visit). Many lamented how their kids’ inborn curiosity was showing signs of, not of decline, but of ‘squelching,’ which they attributed in part to the kind of rigid and stress-filled education given to kids (thrust upon them) these days.
One professor shared how she went to great lengths to get permission for her young daughter to turn in some incomplete homework assignments so she would have time to eat meals, and even (heaven forbid) for a bit of relaxation in the park after school.
I shared that we pulled our oldest daughter, who was being ‘tested’ week in and week out starting with her first month of first grade, and was given few opportunities for creative learning, out of the Philadelphia school system — and now she is thriving, back to her curious, inquisitive self.
Professor Casebier said a friend of his who was principal of a school turned kids’ learning outcomes around dramatically by doing something that he said sounded radically out of the ordinary except, he said, to me — he said I was the only person who guessed correctly that this principal’s solution was to start the school day with…..recess. Yes, recess. Play. To start their day with pure unadulterated joyful play.
I write a lot about play in Philosophy of Childing, and what constitutes the best kinds of play for kids, and for adults. Indeed, there’s a full chapter devoted to it. Here’s how I launch into the inquiry on play in my book:
The word play has always been connected to the world of make-believe. At its origins, though, this world was as much the province as adults as it was children. In England of old, playing was a special occasion for one and all. As the poet and scholar John Milton put it in 1638, “young and old come forth to play on a sunshine holiday.” Today, the kind of unfettered play in which you let your imagination loose of all strictures is associated mostly with children.
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as the right of every child. Should play also be the right of every adult, of every human being, if we are to continue growing a sound mind and body? What kinds of play make for a happy and healthy child? How about a happy and healthy adult? If we don’t tend to our playful side, can we continue to ‘child’ in as rich and manifold a way as we otherwise might?
Bottom line for the inquiry at University of Miami: I pointed out that the most successful thinkers of all sorts tend to have a decidedly playful element to their work, and that in Florence of old this was par for the course for everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Michelangelo.
As is the case with most kids, when given the right learning conditions, my daughter Cali needs little to no prompting or prodding to do any coursework, because it is of a joyful sort that sets her on a course to be a lifelong learner, thinker, questioner, doer with a civic conscience.