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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Story of... quotes

This quote is very similar to one made by Maya Angelou - often misquoted as "When we know better we do better".

As I was writing my book on Original Learning I developed an aversion to the word "better" because it seemed to imply that we are not enough now - because if we know better and do better, then previously we were worse and/or lesser.

And I feel that we need to celebrate the idea of "good enough" a phrase I know lot of different people have used over the years. My opinion is that the vast majority of people working with young children are doing the very best they can with the knowledge, skills, and circumstances they have ( I have also come across people who should not be working with children and would thrive better in another profession (the children too)... hence the vast majority). I felt uncomfortable with the word better and sought to erase it from my book choosing other ways of phrasing how we evolve as educators and carers of young children (and as people in general).

Maya Angelou is not a person I have read or listened to, in much the same way that I have not read or listened to Mr. Rogers - they somehow have not felt connected to my European perspective and I have used my time to seek out other stories... it does not mean I don't value or hold in esteem the opinions of those who I have not yet read - it simply means that my time has been prioritised with other thinkers... My only encounters with Angelou and Rogers are the quotes other people have shared.

So the "Know better do better" quote has floated around my social media feed. It felt out of alignment with what I was trying to communicate - where learning is not linear or hierarchical but is simply change - and change is risky - it doesn't always work out for the better, even when we think it might be... and therefore it can be good to change our minds and go back to what was in order to take a different path forward instead of continuing to trudge on one that takes us ever further away from better - no matter how often we try to change the direction.

I see this in children's play - how they often return to the same thing over and over to fully understand, fine tune etc before moving forwards - and sometimes the return to play and behaviours they had once grown out of as a response to recalibrate and to move forwards (some adults get frustrated with this - but I think it's important to allow this spiralling way to evolve as it allows children to feel safe and understand themselves, others and the world around them). We need to give ourselves the same permission.

So here I was - a white person - taking to task Maya Angelou's quote. Hmmm, it didn't feel comfortable, and therefore I chickened out and did not tell the whole story - only the story of why I wanted to use different instead of better.

What is interesting is that I have just learned - by looking up what Angelou said in response to someone pointing out that the above belonged first to her, is that the "when we know better, we do better" is actually only an abridged version of what she communicated - and her actual unabridged words make much more sense to me...

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

The strangest part is that trying to find when and where she said or wrote these words is harder to find because no-one has written the whole source - just Maya Angelou.

But this unabridged version feels more authentic - it is a personal reflection of change and evolving - not a generic statement of how everyone should be - because far from all people do better when they know better - they continue with what is comfortable - and maybe that is a huge part of the problem with the world today? As I wrote above, change is risky - and I think many people are too afraid. Like I was afraid to challenge what I thought were Maya Angelou's words... I might not have read/listened to her, but I carry with me a great deal of respect for her but fear (to be honest) the wrath of white people telling me off - mostly because it creates an enormous amount of anxiety (which I assume is due to being autistic). I struggle with the negative emotions of others (even through writing) because I absorb them and feel the negativity and it affects my mental health. Therefore while I advocate for equity I have to be able to do it in my own autistic way which is peaceful.

I do though want to ensure that all voices are heard and respected, and this blogpost will now be attached to the above photo-quote every time I share it, so that the complexity and all the stories and people attached to it are included. I do not want to dishonour Maya Angelou in any way.

The quote was recently shared together with a quote from a Sámi scholar... and the purpose was to inform of another way of thinking, and remind that when we know new information we can change the way we reflect, and do. Maybe it starts with reflection before we can get to action? Maybe these different words need to mull around our minds so that we become less afraid, more familiar and start putting the different thinking into action?

For those of you not aware of who the Sámi are then I recommend to read the stories written by Liisa-Ravna Finbog who shares their Sámi experience on the Norwegian side of the border (as Sápmi stretches across modern day Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia).

Below are three quotes that I will be sharing during this second week of February to bring awareness to the Indigenous Sámi wisdom that is available if people choose to seek it out and listen. I am choosing quotes and extracts that I feel can enhance the way we think about education, play and children with the hope that when we know different we do different - even if it is how we reflect at first. My hope is that more people turn to the Sámi scholars, knowledgebearers and others willing to share their culture, history, methodologies and wisdom. I am not an expert in this who can teach others... I am merely a listener and learner who wants to encourage others to also listen and learn from the actual Indigenous sources - as I live in Sweden I am focussing on listening to the Sámi peoples, but I also seek out knowledge from other Indigenous cultures from around the world.

Over the last three years I have been walking the land, in response to dialogues I had with Hopi Martin ( "I am named after the Hopi Nation and the Briton Warriors that came to Mishiikenh Minissing (Turtle Island/North America) from England. My ancestry is LenniLenape, Briton, and European. I was born on the western edge of Massachusetts along the Housatonic River, but I was raised in Tkaronto (Toronto), the Traditional Territory of Anishinaabeg, Tionontatí (Petun/Tobacco Nations), Huron-Wendat, the Seneca Nation of the Hodenosaunee, and that is currently in the care of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.") in that it is not enough to just decolonise our thinking but that we should strive to Indigenise it too. So my slow walks in the forest have been about listening to the flora, fauna, wind, water and earth using all my senses - and to learn from the more than human wisdom bearers. At first this seemed a very strange and unfamiliar thing to do - but over time I began to understand - and I am still learning to understand. Some of my journey is shared in a separate blog that I seldom share, as it is a more personal way to document my own stories and thoughts - Arboreal Methodologies

Arboreal Methodologies as a term came about as I collaborated with Professor Jayne Osgood and we wrote a chapter for a book - Toward a Stranger and More Posthuman Social Studies (2023) by Bretton A. Varga (Editor), Timothy Monreal (Editor), Rebecca C. Christ (Editor), Wayne Journell (Editor), Boni Wozolek (Foreword by). Our chapter was a little too long to fit into the book, but the full version can be read here

While I am talking about where ideas come from - the term "play responsive" was originally something I read by the Swedish researchers Niklas Pramling, Cecilia Wallerstedt, Pernilla Lagerlöf, Camilla Björklund, Anne Kultti, Hanna Palmér, Maria Magnusson, Susanne Thulin, Agneta Jonsson, and Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson - Play Responsive Teaching in Early Childhood (2019) but in the almost four years since this open access book was released my interpretation of play-responsive has diverted from their continued research and practice. My own interpretation has followed a play path rather than a pedagogical path, and studying playwork in 2020 with Meynell Walters, and my continued playwork dialogues with playworkers Siôn Edwards and Penny Wilson deepened my connection to the play aspect and how playwork can inform pedagogy. It can be said that my branch of play-responsiveness is now quite different from that of the original researchers who focus on how pedagogues play with the children to support play, while my interpretation is that pedagogues observe children's play to support their own teaching.

In my book The original Learning Approach I write my gratitude to all those who have inspired and informed me over time in the preface. Bascially everyone I have ever spoken to, interacted with - family, friends, colleagues, the forest, online interactions etc... the good and the bad - it has all brought me to the place of understanding that I am currently in - until I know different.

The Reggio Emilia Approach has been a massive source of inspiration - especially the words of Malaguzzi that I am grateful that others have recorded on our behalf. I will always acknowledge how these wisdoms have shaped me - but now my path has diverged. And while sometimes I get asked to present about the Reggio Emilia Approach every once in a while (not so much now) I always present my personal relationship with the approach and how it has informed the way I work, as well as the other pedagogies, approaches that have also shaped my thinking... such as the Swedish Curriculum, AnjiPlay, I ur och Skur (come rain or shine - which has evolved into a slightly different Forest School approach), Indigenous knowledge, Té Whäriki, and many more.... Many of my blog-posts are titled "The Story of..." and the reason for this is because I share my story - one of many stories about education, play and children - and I always encourage you to take in as many stories as possible to create your own understanding/approach that works for you, your children and the place where you belong.

The Story of a Stone shares how this title came into being... if you have the time I would love for you to read it, and watch the TED talk at the end by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if you have not already seen it, as I think it is essential for every educator to consider the "Danger of the Single Story".

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