“Remember the Children”
I am a 76 year old grandmother, now in partnership with my daughter as organic farmers. I spent nearly 50 years designing and helping to implement learning environments for children, believing no task more fundamental to being able to live in peace and well-being, and I know that Bernie and Jane Sanders have also been very active in education. I was glad to read Alexandra Dos Santos’ message here. Too often we discount our young.
That young people can strongly maintain the critical thinking they are born with was clear recently when my grandsons, twin ten-year-olds, Laith and Zachary, attended Bernie Sander’s Yakima Washington rally in March to see their “man.” Afterwards they said “He’s even more our man!”
“Why?” I asked.
“Grandma! He doesn't insult people and he wants to do good for everyone.”
This is what I know:
In 1776, when revolutionary hero John Adams was off to form the new American government, wife Abigail wrote asking that he “remember the ladies.”
In Bernie’s revolutionary campaign of 2016, our need is to “remember the children.” Many of our young as a group today are discouraged, without voice or power, many undereducated, unemployed, ill, hungry, and even homeless in a land of plenty. Much is at stake because no culture survives when it stops preparing upcoming generations for the future. We’re already there. Young people know it, even if adults do not. Surely that's why Sanders attracts so many. There is a lot wrong with how young people are treated today, including with the design of our schools, and that can be fixed. Let's use this election to examine the facts and add this dire but solvable problem to the agenda. Young people, who have the longest time to live in the future, need to be active in communities and have their voices respected, not closeted away in silence.
Bernie’s campaign with its early doubters resembles those ridiculing Maria Montessori, Italy’s first woman physician, when given the task in 1907 of keeping the “defective” and “uneducable” children of impoverished working mothers off the streets of Rome, to be confined “doing something” out of sight until big enough to work as chimney sweeps and other laborers.
She designed an unusual setting with materials based on the science of how children develop and learn concepts and skills most easily in a “prepared environment” of intellectual stimulation and emotional safety. Respected as learners, children were encouraged to explore and construct the world with their hands and imagination and follow their curiosity as far as it would take them on paths to lifelong learning.
When these once hungry, dirty and sleep deprived waifs began outpacing their privileged peers in academic achievement and moral development, her ideas swept through many countries. But in America her ideas were blocked from the public sphere then (and still) committed to the “traditional school” model that stupefies students through boredom and endless seat time, shut behind walls, apart from the community, knowledge chopped into small incomprehensible pieces, shame and fear as motivators, their voices silenced, and overseen by teachers lacking a real curriculum. Thus were planted seeds for the class system we now have of money and power based on knowledge. Often only those able to afford tuition for "Montessori school" and similar programs, seen as elitist, but no more costly than traditional schools, get education not only to compete in the world, but for ideas, integrity and creativity, qualities needed at home to maintain a complicated democratic republic. We need citizens capable of civic action and critical thinking, based on studying history and human nature. Now, after 150 years of forced implementation of these “seat time” schools, our youth tell us that rather than climbing ladders to success they are dumbfounded by debt and hopelessness. And hear this! Those boys listening and shouting enthusiastically at the rally are part of the cohort born after 2000 predicted to live shorter lives than their parents. This is a national emergency! How can we fail to act?
“College for all” is needed to give students more seat time—often just to try to gain rudimentary skills in the 3 R’s they should have already, serving adults and corporations making money off of them. The knowledge is there to provide, by early teens, enough education to easily comprehend the McGuffey Readers eight and nine year old farm kids in the 1800’s enjoyed for literature, philosophy, history and poetry, with added abundant experiences in art, mathematics, music, languages, writing, logical argumentation, the sciences, farming, health education including nutrition. This forms a superb base for training of all sorts: medical, legal, technical, mechanical, construction, space and oceanic exploration, and the sciences supplemented by more academics for heightened levels of expertise as needed and desired. The resulting strong American youths would have huge opportunities for employment, including new types of work waiting to be invented, including by them, and, surely, extended lives.
We can do this, community by community, if we use knowledgeable educators to design and implement real opportunities for skills and intellectual development, based on the science of how children learn.
Or we keep the status quo of today’s reality. Unprepared for life at 18, many begin college barely reading. More than 50 per cent of college seniors read below an 8th grade level, and have few survival skills. Businesses cannot find enough Americans capable of being trained to work in a modern factory, where simple report writing, computation and the ability to notice problems is needed. Farmers across the nation report similar problems in sponsoring interns to learn agriculture skills. The prison industry looks at reading failures of 4th graders to know how many new prisons to build. We import physicians, and professors for math, science and technical courses.
I could write volumes, many already have, and these authors and books back up assertions made here: James Taylor Gatto ‘s The Underground History of American Education, A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling; Angeline Stoll Lillard’s Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius; Peter Sims’ 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “Montessori Mafia,” where he lists many of today’s creative geniuses who once were Montessori students, and Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way. She is not writing about U.S. kids.
Although behind other countries in ability to educate children for health, happiness and productivity, we ought not to copy their methods nor “improve” our “traditional schools.” We must sweep aside that model to invigorate our culture of creativity, inventiveness, a can-do spirit, the Bill of Rights, idealism, the eternal challenge to balance needs of the individual and the group – and a country still with a few wild places of life and beauty to admire and protect. Each community would offer children choices, based on trusting children as learners when the environment is made right for them. It’s an idea to plant, grow and watch bloom in fertile soils. Let’s do it.
The children can take it from there.
Brooks Mitchell, grandmother, teacher and organic farmer at Heavenly Hills Harvest Farm in Washington State.