Are We Good Or Bad?

Six years ago I took my first college course on education. It is a course that is mandated for lead teachers of ECE in my state. In that class I was posed this question for the first time:

“Do you believe that children are basically good, or basically evil?”

There weren’t a lot of answers to that question the day that it was posed to us, or any other day after that. This question is philosophical at its core, and I’m not sure that a lot of people take the time to really think about the implications of the question. But having thought about it myself, I have realized that this little question shapes what we do in the classroom, our expectations of children, and how we treat them.

This is probably the most important question that teachers can ask themselves.

A few days after the question was posed, it was posed again. And I answered that children are basically good. This went against any philosophical teaching that I had, because my philosophical background taught that people are generally evil. They do evil things and think evil thoughts. However, as someone who was going into the teaching profession, I refused to say that children were basically evil. I realized on some level that this answer would shape my teaching practice in an entirely different way than the other answer.

As the years have gone by and I have shaped my teaching practices around the idea that children are basically good, I have seen mountains of evidence pointing toward that being the actual case. Children are capable. They are strong. They are resilient. They are curious.

It is our own beliefs and backgrounds that have us paint children as evil or bad. Our own beliefs about how the world is and how children should behave in it skew our viewpoint, so that when we see these traits in children we label them as bad. It is time that we come up with new labels for children, like curious, capable, and strong.

The most interesting thing about these labels is, when we begin to use them we start seeing them more frequently in more and more children around us. And we also begin to see them in ourselves, because we are looking for them all around us.

I urge my fellow teachers to think about this question and the implications of it in the classroom. Think about which answer your own teaching reflects. Think about the qualities you see in children and how you really want to see children. Ask yourself, are children good or bad?

The Power of “Why”

I am putting the finishing touches on my¬†Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom¬†local workshop. The online version won’t be available for some time yet, as I am still learning the ins-and-outs of putting together an online course.

The information that I am focusing on right now deals with classroom management and how it relates to the expression of creativity in the classroom. I wrote a note to myself in the initial outline draft about the power of “why” in the classroom. This is not a new idea on this blog. I believe that children, like adults, have the power to reason. Their ability to reason is not as mature as adults – they may come up with some off-the-wall reasons for some things. But they come up with reasons – they understand that behaviors and outcomes have reasons behind them – especially when we ask the word “why”. Why do we not run around the classroom? Why do we not jump on the bed? Why do we not write on the walls or the furniture? Why do we not throw toys?

“Why” is an important word to give reason to children, but it is also important for teachers as well. I have had many instances where I have been telling the children to do something (or, in most cases, not to do something) and my brain all the sudden stops me and asks me “Why are you asking them to stop? Is there a safety issue involved? Is someone going to get hurt? No – really – is someone going to get hurt?” Although this is not going to become a post about risk-taking, the question is very important for that reason. How much risk am I comfortable with them taking, as the one who is responsible for their safety? But most importantly, why am I asking them to stop? Control? Power? And if I am asking them to stop, what is the reason that I am going to give them? Trust me, children will be more liable to stop if they have a logical reason – a because that makes sense to them. Simply asking or telling a child to stop is an arbitrary command to them. You may have a perfectly valid reason for asking them to stop doing what they are doing, but they will not know that if you don’t tell them.

The “Because” is just as important as the “Why”

“Because I said so” is not a reason. It may be perfectly valid to you, as the teacher, because the child is supposed to listen to you and follow your direction. But the reason why they are supposed to follow your direction is because it is your job to keep them safe and teach them how to live safely and productively in this world. Simply giving them “Because I said so” as a reason for not doing something does not teach them anything about how you are trying to keep them safe or productive. It becomes an arbitrary command from you to them. How often do you want to follow a command that someone else gives you, without being given the reason for why you are being commanded? If someone continuously commands you without reason, you begin to feel disrespected – and even unsafe. If you feel like your life or work becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of someone else, it isn’t a place that you really want to be in any more, is it? You never know what is coming next, or why you are being picked on in this way. Because that is what it ends up feeling like – like you are being picked on.

Giving a valid reason for asking a child to do something is giving the child the same respect that you deserve. And all children deserve that respect as much as we do. Not only is it respectful, but it continues the lessons about actions having reasons – an important lesson to learn. People become goal-driven as they get older (and this starts at a young age), and teaching children the power of “why” and “because” helps them to realize that every action has a purpose and every purpose brings us closer to a goal. And in our quest to bring creativity to the classroom, it helps us put children and ourselves on the path toward realizing just how creative our classroom can be.