The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.
From section 81 of the Tao Te Ching
Education cannot be forced. The minds of children are not empty waiting to be filled. They come to us already full—full of dreams and imaginations, fears and hopes, wacky inventions and little songs. They are brimming with wisdom. The art of teaching consists in drawing out the loveliness of children and weaving it with what you want them to learn. Trying to stuff in facts, most of which are out of context, is futile. It might make for people who can play trivia games, but it doesn’t engender citizens of the world who are filled with character, understanding, and compassion.
If we aren’t meant to cram random facts into the heads of children how do we teach them? The key is in two of the words from this passage from Lao Tsu: Nourish and lead. True education nourishes the minds, heart, and bodies of children. True educators lead, they do not compel.
Many people have pointed out that the original Latin roots of the word education mean to bring forth, to draw out. The Latin, educere, is also related to the word, dux, which is where we get the word duke—a leader. In other words we want to educate children in such a way as to make them leaders instead of followers; leaders of themselves, savvy to the whims of advertising executives and shady politicians. We want to draw out and nourish the fruits of the Divinity within them. And this takes gentleness, not force.
Watch gardeners work. They give the keys to good teaching. See how they tend the soil. See how they water the crops. See how they ensure the leaves have adequate light and space. Never will you see a gardener reach down and pull out a plant in an attempt to make it grow faster.
We tend the soil of a child’s intellect by using the gifts they already have within them and merge them with activities that help awaken their interests in the world around them and in the things we want them to learn. When we couch facts in stories, songs, poems, movement games, and dramatizations we are using the gold already within the minds of children. These activities nourish the child and allows for the things we want them to learn to take root.
We water their minds with the sweat of our brow and the tears of our love. Memorizing songs, poems, stories; writing plays, learning and leading in active learning games—all of this takes work. It is much easier to simply read the scripted teacher’s edition of a textbook. The cost is grave however to both the soul of the teacher and the student.
We give children adequate light and space by protecting their need for outdoor time. We get them outside at least twice a day for at least a half an hour each time. We begin the day with active learning games that are both fun and invigorating. Some people object and say that will wind the kids up and make it impossible for them to sit still. I say you just haven’t gotten them moving long enough and with the proper, age appropriate activities. How long am I talking about? For young children 6-8ish, an hour of active, poetic, musical movement will probably do the trick. An hour?! I can just hear it now: “That’s too much time taken away from learning time! This isn’t Romper Room!” Fill the acitvites with things you want the children to learn—anything form times tables to grammar rules and make it active and fun, and they will learn far more, and in lasting ways, than if you sat them down and tried to force the knowledge in by a lecture or movie. Once children get into the rhythm of activity first thing in the morning they will welcome desk work, provided it is appropriate and meaningful and creative.
Sunlight, open windows, outdoor play is crucial to the development of young minds and bodies. Taking children on nature walks is a lost art in itself, lost amidst fears of lawsuits and too much urban sprawl. There are ways to bring nature to children and to get children outside. Do you run the risk of children getting scraped knees? Yes, but scraped knees are good for the soul (“Remember that time I fell and my leg started bleeding and you picked me up and put that Sponge-Bob band aid on my cut and sang me a song?”—Children remember their wounds, and how we tended them, and how they healed).
Lastly, let the children blossom at their own rate. Any significant organic learning issues will become apparent with ample time to address them. In general, every child is different, just as every stalk of corn is different, just as every species of plant is different. Draw them out with compassion, ease, and understanding. The moment we get nervous that a student hasn’t learned something in the time we think they should have then that student picks up on our anxiety. Yes, I realize modern public education builds on itself—layering facts upon facts (largely simply expanding on the same tired facts year after year with bigger and bigger words), and so some teachers worry students will fall behind if they don’t meet the objectives you are required to write on the board. The task of the teachers is to honor their students not the objectives thought up by someone who doesn’t know your class.
In short, help your students become leaders by guiding, planting seeds, nourishing them, and tending the gardens of their intellects with active, creative, and imaginative activities.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog