Children are great teachers. Watch and learn.
(Pedagogy) Philosophy and Nonsense      
Thoughts about writing, education, and experience                                  Presented by Forrest D. Poston

The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.

Growing up doesn't mean losing your sense of adventure.

Writing and Education

Autobiography Challenge

Considering Conclusions

Considering Introductions

Four Meanings of Life

Godot and the Great Pumpkin

A Major is More Minor Than
You Think

The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)

Thoughts About Picking a Major

Quick Points About Education

Quick Points About Writing

Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching

Revising Revision

Reviving Experience

Reviving Symbolism

Using an Audience


What Makes a Story True?

What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)

Why Write?

Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)

Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma

Links to Other Sites
Being Like Children        by Forrest D. Poston

Think about when we're children. We have nothing and know nothing. Every experience is new and every boundary a challenge. Given a set of blocks, we experiment with different ways of turning and stacking them, and even chewing them. When a stack falls, we start again. Even if someone gives us a set designed to build a particular item, we're more likely to build something of our own or play with the box rather than being satisfied with pre-packaged creativity.

With that same attitude, we learn to walk, to run, to ride a bike, to drive a car. We get hurt, but mostly we survive, even thrive. As we grow, we gather experiences, people, and material items. In other words, we have (or seem to have) less to gain and more to lose. The same people who laughed when we wanted to be a cowboy and said we could become whatever we wanted when we said we wanted to be president start talking about security and being sensible.

When we want to major in English or art, they tell us there are no jobs, and they convince us that it's better to be a bored but secure accountant than it is to be a dreamer with possibilities matched by uncertainty. Easy laughter is replaced with "Bah, humbug." Eventually, the only thing that matters is financial worth, and "the long term" only means our immediate personal future.

Look around, and you can point to person after person who has followed that track. It's so dominant that we consider it normal, natural, almost inevitable. From time to time we point to someone who broke free and walked a path based on following an individual desire to learn and live, but we ususally reserve that for those who broke free and managed to make more money than anybody else. We revere Bill Gates because he has an enormous bank account despite the fact that his company makes inferior products. Gates is now one of the big names in education reform even though his only qualification is how much he can afford to spend on the effort.

Now keep in mind that every organization eventually forms an identity, a self, and becomes not just an organization but an organism. It applies to companies and countries. Just as children begin with a sense of adventure, play, and joy, so do those companies and countries. And just as adventurous children become security-minded adults, so do those companies and countries, complete with the narrow, short-term perspective focusing on the financial bottom line.

Meanwhile, both art and physics tell us that what we call security is really a lack of growth and development. Sure we try to grow, if you mean increasing the size of our net financial worth, but there's a difference between growth and merely getting bigger. Real growth requires change, and with change there must always be uncertainty. We learn from our mistakes. Too often, security means avoiding mistakes by avoiding risks. We don't risk; we don't make mistakes; we don't learn.

In physics, the second law of thermodynamics deals with systems and growth. According to this law, a closed system must tend toward entropy. That means all the energy spreads out and slows down. A closed system can only wind down. However, if a system is open, outside energy can be added, allowing the system to change and grow.

Imagine a stream feeding into a pond. As long as the stream flows in, the water in the pond remains a lively place. If there's enough flow coming in, there will even be excess flowing off in another stream. However, if that stream stops flowing into the pond, the motion and ripples will slow, settle, and cease, move to entropy. We know what that leads to in a pond, stagnation, fouling, and death. Almost by definition, security means a closed system, and right now our entire social mentality is focused on security. We are not the same country that reached to the Pacific and to the moon.

Still, I'm not convinced that we're ready to wind down, fade away, or ride off into the sunset. I know that students don't want to graduate into the same life they see adults living. Given the opportunity and mental jumpstart, I've watched college students change from accounting to fashion. I've watched students with serious drug problems trade drugs for thought and become great seekers of a different order.

Adults also go through many changes no matter how hard they try to resist, and each change is a rebirth, an opportunity to shed one skin for another. They tend to start around 30 and hit every 10 years or so, and at least some are called our mid-life crisis. Whether or not we're visited by three spirits, we get a chance to change.

For many, it comes when we finally feel like we've fulfilled our responsibilities. More than one student has come to a weekly conference and told me in a somewhat shakey voice that both parents have quit their jobs and taken up a long delayed goal like boat building or running a food wagon at state fairs. These parents usually tell the children that this is what they've long wanted but felt obligated to hang onto the regular job, even a hated job, until the youngest child was in college.

Good parents, right? Dedicated, loving, and well-meaning parents, one and all, and yet there's a bug in the system. In one case, my student was the youngest, just a freshman, and it still shook her entire view of the world to learn that her father had hated his high paying, well-respected career. Her brother was a junior or senior, and he had dedicated himself to following in his father's footsteps, the footsteps it turned out his father never wished to walk.

In his dedication, the father lived a lie. What we tell our children is important, but what we show them is far more powerful. This father built what his son thought was Oz, and then he pulled the curtain aside. The son bounced from major to major for a while, and the last I knew he became a golf instructor in Florida, more from desperation than desire.

So we have our chances and choices, for ourselves and for our children. Not everybody needs to quit their job or run away to join the circus. What matters most is our attitude, how we measure the balance between security and possibilities. Many have said that we need to be like children. That doesn't mean we become immature or blindly obedient. It means having a sense of wonder and adventure while still realizing that it's not a good idea to jump off the roof with an umbrella even if your big brother says so.

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Back to the Home Page

Other Essays and Poetry

Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume

Being Like Children

The Blessing and the Blues

The Cat With a Bucket List

David and the Revelation

The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)

Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone

The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices

The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake

Trumpet Player, USDA Approved



Selected Poems

The Poetry Process

Writing by Current or Former Students

Ms. Write Meets Her Match in Jr. Ms. Write Now
by Heide Perry

I'll Just Have Cats
by Cara Hummel

Toys to Toys
by Allyson Bowlds

Scribbles and Bits

Links to Other Sites