Democracy as a relationship
I have been spending today trying to put together an article for Modern Barndom (Swedish Reggio Emilia Magazine) about my experiences in the refugee camp of Jenin, Palestine. There is just so much I want to share, and too few words to share them in, that I have written a first draught with a focus on listening... and now feel I have to write a couple more with different perspectives and then try to make a choice as to which one I should send... It is like the pedagogical documentation film I shared last week where I mentioned that it is impossible to share all the learning, all the observations and understandings you as a teacher have made together with the children - that the publication part has to be selective, you have to make a choice about what perspective of the learning you want to share with others... what am I going to shine the light on? Also when it comes to this process of publishing thoughts it creates a frame for sorting. I have lots of reflections, I have learned so much about Jenin, about some of the people there, about myself and what I am capable of and my own learning. I am learning about history, politics and a culture that is different from my own, and yet the humanity of it has the exact same threads... This year I have been focussing on democracy within preschools, trying to grapple with what it means for me and how can I share that with others... and how can I personally be democratic... Democracy as a relationship... it is about our relationship with others... how we respect and value others, how we listen to others and how we collaborate and cooperate with others - participation. It is also our relationship with the room and with the materials - are we listening to the room... is the room listening to the children and the educators, does the room allow participation for all those that enter the room? Maybe it is even the relationship between materials - are some given higher status than others? Why? How? As I have stated in previous posts about democracy we do not have to agree to value or respect another person, we do need to take the time to listen to understand. To take the time to reflect on differences and what these mean... the relationship of opinions. "As we know, Malaguzzi never saw the developing child as an ideally autonomous learner, but rather saw education as a necessarily communal activity and symphony of subjectivities involving children and adults. He saw long-term and meaningful relationships between and among children, teachers, and parents as the necessary precondition for the flowering of communication, co-action, and reciprocity. Assuming the benefits of the prevailing Italian practice of keeping together teachers and children for a three-year cycle, he rationalized this practice by saying it makes possible the greatest density, richness, and complexity of communications, negotiations, and collaborative problem-solving. The three years spent together allow the group to construct a history of relationship and a sharing of culture that creates the sense of community and guarantees the quality of life and well-being for children as part of families." Democratic Participation in a Community of Learners: Loris Malaguzzi's Philosophy of Education as Relationship by Carolyn P. Edwards Twice I have been given the opportunity to work with children for more than a year... once for two years with the same group of children, and once for 3.5 years. Both times I have been keenly aware of the advantages of having that longer length of time with the children. I was able to establish relationships with all of the children that allowed us to trust each other so that we could then focus our attention on our relationships with play and learning. I had a real understanding of the children... and they had an understanding of me. This meant we could get on with trying to make sense of the world. When given a new class/group of children so much energy is consumed getting to know each other, learning to trust each other that there is not so much left for play and learning... even if getting to know each other is done through play and learning. The great part of continuing after summer with the same children is that we continued from where we were, making adjustments for the individual and group developments during the summer, which would be done through our observations, dialogues with the parents and dialogues with the children... we did not have to start from scratch building up our relationship. It also meant that I had a better success rate that projects I launched would be ones the children would be drawn to... because they came from my understanding of them.
This trust means that the children were open in their dialogues... they trusted me to create a safe place for all their ideas... they trusted that their peers knew that this was a safe place and were open to all ideas. This meant there was more participation, the children valued each other and respected each other - the words I am using to define democracy. Not by voting on things, but by listening to each other adults and children alike.