It was an evening last week when I learned that my 12 years old daughter, a very sensitive and empathic girl, is chatting with a friend who is, at the same time over the phone with another friend escorting the local police searching for another (fourth) friend suspected of trying to commit suicide, per her Facebook page. So, this is the situation:
Lots of wisdom in this blog. It’s also hilarious.
Thanks to Cath Prisk for alerting me to it, I’m doing a bit of e-housekeeping while I listen to Diane Abbott arguing with Hezza wondering which one is more annoying, and I just now found her email from two months ago.
Here’s my favourite Neill anecdote, told in my own words. It works like a stun grenade lobbed into the ivory tower of pedagogy and pediatric development, I reckon.
I’d like a snappy title: how about this:
“MANUAL WORK IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL”
Once there was a boy at Summerhill who could not read. Teachers were concerned about him, and wanted to help. Neill said, calmly and firmly: “No.”
The years went by and the boy – still utterly illiterate and fast approaching his final year of school – wanted a motorbike: the key to his freedom to roam the leafy lanes of East Anglia, and the key to meeting GIRLS in the nearest town, several miles away.
That summer, as he turned sixteen (and became eligible for a provisional license to legally ride a 50cc motorcycle), he discovered a rusting moped in a hedge. He dragged the wreck back to Summerhill and set about restoring it. He scrubbed and cleaned until it gleamed. Of course it wouldn’t go. It would need masses of mechanical and electrical know-how to get it going, if this were even possible.
So he went to Neill, they all called him Neill, and knocked quietly on the half-open door of Neill’s study, clutching the Haynes manual for the Honda 50, and asked: “ Neill , please will you teach me to read this?”
And Neill said, calmy and firmly:
Thanks to Joel, for evoking this with your blog, to be found here:
Start your reading about Neill here:
(I think I would have first heard of Neill by reading an article in New Society by Leila Berg)
Thank you to Morgan for sharing this quote:
“I am of course employed as a leader, but on an adventure playground this is hardly the same as the accepted idea of a leader and organizer who works, as it were, from the outside. Rather, mine is a function which arises within the actual framework of the playground where I am in a position to give the children every opportunity of putting their plans into practice. This initiative must come from the children themselves and when the necessary materials are to be had these give the children the inspiration for play. I cannot, and indeed will not, teach the children anything. I am able to give them my support in their creative play and work, and thus help them in developing those talents and abilities which are often suppressed at home and at school. I consider it most important that the leader not appear too clever but that he remain at the same experimental stage as the children. In this way the initiative is left, to a great extent, with the children themselves and it is thus far easier to avoid serious intrusion into their fantasy world.”
from John Bertelsen’s “Early Experience from Emdrup” in Adventure Playgrounds,p.20-1.
Now, note the word: ‘arises’.
Something that arises is something that is emergent.
He is not saying his role is mandated by his employer, nor is it subservient to, or defined by, his ‘customers’. Rather, it is, from my complexity perspective - an emergent phenomenon within the playspace.
Which brings me right back to my presentation in 1997 at PlayEd: ”Designing PossibilitySpaces – the key task for playwork“. It is this emergent quality of the playspace, which is not a simple linear result of the staff and the physical environment, that determines and creates the playspace. Yes, it is circular. And yes, it is emergent from many interactions between many humans – mainly the children with each other, but also with adults.
(Author’s note: I’ve added single quotes around the phrase ‘the child’, just like that. I did this just now: Thursday, April 18, 2013 14:27. The reason being that I wanted to clarify that I am focussing on the concept we point to when we use the phrase, and I am indebted to Morgan for pointing up what I was doing. I was taking for granted that my audience would know what I meant, which is always dangerous. Like Morgan, I wince when ever I encounter the idealised child in print.)
Yet we continue to talk about children in the singular. Playwork is not about ‘the child’. As I have said before, and been mightily misunderstood and majorly castigated for: playwork is not about helping children. Playwork is about providing playspaces (a term that needs to be defined, but not now, but see below*) for children – PLURAL, not helping ‘the child’. SINGULAR.
Playwork is not about ‘the child’. Leave that bogus concern to social services, who have discarded all they knew about families as interactive systems in favour of a tabloid-driven heroic rescue mentality.
Playwork is about children en masse. Groups of children. Large numbers of children.
If we focus on individual children and we neglect to focus on the playspace*, – the culture being continuously recreated autopoietically, the resulting emergent behaviour of the denizens en masse – then we stop doing playwork and become rescuers.
The role of the playworker
is an emergent responsiveness
to the playspace.
Thanks again Morgan, for sharing that Bertelsenic nugget. More please.
http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/brainpickings/rss/~3/wANMTTMt3KQ/ Fascinating and inspiring stuff, looking at children as designers. Warning: may contain Spacehoppers.
Definition (extract – Encyclopaedia Ludica, 5th edition 2027)
*Play Movement, The (UK terminology, see disambiguation)
”The Play Movement, characterised by its obsession with free play for its own sake, the garish primary-coloured clothing of its fervent early adherents and their wearing enthusiasm, was born in the squats of Notting Hill, in the 1960s. Some say that it was influenced by the Dutch ‘junk playground’ experiments, and the Arts Lab movement. Others trace its genesis to the free festival ‘Playstock’, held in a field near Bolton, Lancashire, where a massive artwork featuring a large number of small holes dug in the ground was created by participants. An early presaging of crowd-based art, that also inspired a verse in the Beatles’ song “Day in the Life”. Since the late 1980s, the movement, some say, took a wrong turn and became mired in the qualification structures of childcare. Meanwhile, in wider society, playfulness blossomed.”
(Authors: Fernando Pessoa and Hugo Grinmore. ©Wintermute/Geneva AI holdings SARL)
That entry forms a preamble to this interesting article:
Would More People Use the Public Library If It Had a Water Slide?
“In 2010, Poland’s National Library performed a survey to determine the reading habits of the Polish citizenry. The results were not buoying: 56 percent of Poles had not read a book in the past year, either in hard or electronic form. Just as bad was that 46 percent had not attempted to digest anything longer than three pages in the previous month – and this included students and university graduates.
But who’s to blame here: The willfully non-literate masses for not trekking to the public library? Or is it the library’s fault for not attracting these individuals, what with its classically stodgy, hermetic-cage-for-learning design?
At least one Polish architect believes libraries should bear some of the blame for a lack of reading. Hugon Kowalski, who runs UGO Architecture and Design, thinks that no matter how grand or inspiring a library’s appearance is, many people will not flock to it unless it offers amenities other than plopping down with a book. “A modern building will not attract new users to a library, at least not in the long run,” he writes. “People interested in its novelty will probably go there only once.” So Kowalski conceived of a new kind of library…“
“I told a friend today that it’s time to take a stand. Here is that stand.
“I have been an advocate for, and more importantly a community worker in Active Play for quite a few years now, and have worked in a number of capacities. Because of that, I have had the opportunity to watch our advocacy develop in the context of physical education, sports performance, the so called “obesity crisis”, and the push for academic “excellence”.”
Above and Beyond
“During this time, there have been herculean efforts made to justify ”moderate to vigorous physical activity” for kids and teens in terms of things like “productivity”, “test scores”, and “health”. All you have to do is look at the terminology. It is clinical and measurable. That’s what I keep having to justify play against – clinical and measurable. I will submit to you during this article that play can’t compete with measurable on it’s turf, but measurable is no match for LIVING.”
Go read it!