After his first day of school, Joel commented to me, “Daddy, you wouldn’t believe it. In kindergarten you have sit where they tell you. We have to sit down. It’s not a choice. I thought when you get bigger you get to make more of your own decisions.”
It was a painful reminder of my own hypocrisy. I say I believe in freedom and yet restrict freedom of movement. I say I believe in autonomy, but students are chained to the desks with an invisible bond held together by death stares and space proximity warnings.
Last week I created an enrichment table. Students work on art-related service projects when they feel the creative impulse or when they finish their work or when they simply cannot sit still. Yes, I realize that in the real world many of them will end up in a row of cubicles staring at a flat screen and secretly playing Fantasy Football. In the real world, people experience broken relationships and soldiers go off to war and genocide occurs in places I can’t locate easily on a map. I have no desire to emulate any of that. Perhaps the real world shouldn’t always be a bottom line. Perhaps I shouldn’t be obsessed with the future. I teach in the now and what I know about students is that they need to move.
So, I break up the lessons. I introduce rotating reading and I let kids sit on the ground or on comfortable chairs during silent reading. I do belief walks and simulate cell divisions with chains of students. We film a short video based upon our classwide reading and do a rotating brainstorm before we start a debate.
Every assumption I had made turns upside-down.
Students will act crazy. Actually it was calm.
Students will be off-task. Actually, they learned more today.
Students will get too loud. Not so much. Once the novelty wore off, they kept a reasonable volume.
One of the students pulls me aside at the end of the day and says, “I didn’t feel trapped today.” Neither did I.