Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with questions. These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.
My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue. I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia. He worked with the community, to create new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another. Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.
Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?
I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.
More questions arose.
Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?
If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?
Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?
Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.
When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs. America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?
I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language. We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us. Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.
I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened. This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same? We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.
We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.