Earth School – Digging in the Dirt: No Doodling Allowed?
So I invite you to think about your first day of school…
If you can remember, what did you do on your first day of school?
What did your classroom look like?
What did it smell like?
How did you feel inside of it?
What were you learning in those first few years?
Who were your favorite teachers?
Why were they your favorites?
Did you have art classes?
Where did they take place?
What kinds of materials were you using?
Every day for the past 18 years that I have been teaching Earth School for homeschoolers (part-time, farm-based education programs), I am in awe because of what these children have that I did not and always wished I had. “Lucky is the child who goes to Earth School,” intones one of the parents whose child has attended our programs for the past 7 years. One of my favorite quotes comes from just last week, from a 5-year-old girl who complained,
“The only thing that I don’t like about Earth School is that I can’t come every day.”
One of my joys is reuniting with Earth School students in the years that pass after they have graduated from our farm-based and forest-centered classes and entered the public or private school system. I always ask them what is their favorite aspect about their new school, and what is their least favorite. What invariably erupts is an outpouring of distress over the lack of outdoor time, and the use of “detention” for minor infractions that just keep children indoors during recess, as a punishment.
How upside down this thinking is. And we know it! So why don’t we object more vociferously? Let me tell you the stories told to me yesterday during an apple picking trip, by an 8th grader at a Westchester County public school, and you tell me what you think…
Students are given 3 minutes to get from one class to the next, between bells. This is typical in middle schools. If a student is late by a minute or more, that equals detention. In 3 minutes, a child has to get from one end of the building to another, stopping at the locker to get books, with never enough time to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. This includes getting from gym class to an academic class. My former student, 13 years old, described how after gym she needs to change her clothes, wash off because she is sweaty (makes sense in adolescence to want to clean up after gym), get to her locker, and get all the way across the building, doesn’t have time for a drink of water, and cannot get to her next class within 3 minutes, so she repeatedly has been kept in from recess.
Finally, as I sat bumping along on a hayride, listening to my former student describe the things that make her unhappy (though she is very strong and a real fighter, so she is not broken by these things – others would be), younger children were also listening in. I was watching 6 year olds screaming with delight each time the hayride jolted them and they fell onto bales of hay with peals of laughter. They are not having enough fun, I told myself with a smile. One of the younger children who overheard the conversation and is in 4th grade in a local public school told me that she had also been kept in from recess twice, for forgetting to bring in her homework sheet signed by her parent. She told me with a shaking voice, a pale face, quivering hands, that she won’t forget to have it signed again. Gee, I thought, why don’t they just rap the children over the knuckles like they used to when you wrote your b’s and d’s backwards? At least you could still go play outside.
When did removing children from nature become a form of punishment? Or is it meant to make nature an incentive for obedience within a system whose requirements are unreasonable? What are children being trained for exactly?
It’s ok. You don’t have to answer that, but I do hope you’ll think about it. And if you’ve got thoughts to share, please leave a comment below.