a plea to teachers:: say yes, allow choice, create thinkers!

Schools and the school setting as we know them today began during the Industrial Revolution. They were modeled after a Prussian system of educating the masses. Although not to the public, their stated mission was to create only one thing: factory workers. For the first time in American history, learning was changed. It was taken from the home environment and placed inside four walls. At that time, subjects were broken up into categories, and there was a focus on the three R’s. Additionally, there was a great deal of focus on a structure that would create young people that could follow orders and take direction. It was a structure that created and valued mediocrity. The creative mind was one that caused problems for the system.

Unfortunately, we haven’t evolved from that structure much. It remains difficult for a child with different ideas or a strong spirit to find a place in the classroom. They are labeled disruptive, annoying, or just plain trouble. Often teachers feel they need to break that spirit, get the child to conform and only then, have they reached success. Still, after all these years, we have trouble letting children think outside the box when they are within the box called school.

That box, like any tradition, is a hard one to break out of. We have a structure that not only doesn’t allow for a lot of wiggle room within it, but it is what we know and what we are used to, which makes it especially hard to not buy into it. However, if our goal is to create confident and creative children who grow into adults who have an impact on our world, we must.

Saying yes in the classroom is not always easy to do and having a ‘yes day’ can not look the same as in the home simply because of the structure of having twenty to thirty six kids, all with different needs and desires. Most teachers would say, “Yeah right. If I let them do what they wanted, it would be total chaos!” But there are ways to nurture that spirit.

Of course, moments of yes can’t happen on the first day of school in the same way that they would after you have been learning together for several months. I’ve heard it said many times that a teacher shouldn’t smile for the first six weeks of school. For the sake of child’s spirit, I can’t buy it.

Find yes moments within your school day, within your structure.

Childcare advocate and educator Dawn Fry says, “Giving choices is important, because making choices cultivates individuality and self-reliance. Only while making choices can children exercise their human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity and even moral preference. When you offer choices, you are honoring the child's needs and innocence, which ultimately helps them develop self-confidence and build their self-esteem.”

Many teachers implement classroom management techniques such as marbles in a jar or point systems, which often result in the children earning time to make a free choice. They also rule out those who deserve that time. The question is, don’t all children deserve time to make choices? If we take that away from them, how will they become the change we wish to see?

It all comes down to philosophy. That there are things you ‘need to’ do, points in your curriculum that you need to get to, things they ‘need’ to know by the time you get finished with them. Of course, that curriculum is mandated by the government, but for anyone who has spent any time in the classroom, we know there are many ways of teaching any stated goal within any curriculum. If we can provide children with choice and autonomy in their learning, they will become more confident and actually retain the information more and better.