Paideia approach to learning forces us as teachers to admit what crime we have been committing against children.
Dear friends, we are proven guilty.
Accustomed to the western rhetoric of educational pedagogy, we confess to you what penchant we have for control, dominance, and power over our children’s minds.
Constantly emboldened by its desire to conquer, the West has always been in position to press on to dominate any unclaimed terrain. It is always about more, not less. It is always about dividing, erecting and building what we possess. For the West, silence has been a ghost it must put on trial for daring to challenge its dominance.
We have been part of that history. The remnants of western thinking bore deep into our educational world views. And Paideia approach is pushing us to undo that very system of thinking.
The more we facilitate seminars among teachers and children, the more we learn to distinguish silence from compliance. Often times we have been attracted by silence and mistaken it with compliance, but they are not the same. Silence summons strength and builds expectation while compliance attempts to scatter it. Silence makes rooms for ideas while compliance drives out ideas.
“When a teacher waits for a child to figure something out . . . it conveys the message that [the teacher] expects the child to be able to accomplish it. Failure to wait conveys the opposite message. Waiting time also offers respect – a relational property that is the lifeblood of a learning community”
– Peter Johnson, Choice Words
We live in a culture that values opinion instead of listening to the values behind their opinion. Empowered by its aggression and power, both children and adults are pressured to produce or do something to fill anything that seems to be unclaimed and open. Often times, we feel like wait time is a ghost we must fight to seize, subdue, and conquer.
In many ways, our classrooms have always mirrored this strange and destructive habit of mind of opinionated claims. We catch ourselves lifting up and honoring those who participate rather than those who choose to observe. We praise when a child lets an opinion known but penalize a child whose mind we can’t read. We say “you must participate” or we say “you get a participation grade because you spoke X time”.
We as teachers and adults keep on poking, prodding, and elicit responses from our children because that’s how learning can be quantified based on our standards. We force our students to show something to us, the sole judge and the authority in the classroom. We legitimize our power over our students and constantly “check their thinking” and validate or refute how they should think for themselves. Their thoughts have to be notarized, legitimized, and made right in the eyes of adults.
This is a crime committed against the minds of American children.
Co-leading Paideia approach to Socratic seminars with ELA teachers across all grade levels in middle school, I realize the beautiful role of letting go of control and allowing wait time to be part of our seminar experience. Silence is an invitation for those who need thinking time, those who need to weave patterns, concepts they conjure up in their minds. Silence is the soft pillow they can lay their thoughts. It’s like a baby cradled in the hands of a nurturer.
Simply put, less is more.
For some adults and children, wait time is a torture. It compels them to start the rescue mission for the whole class by constantly throwing words like confetti. I agree that silence can be a quicksand. Without a framework or guiding questions, it can be a quicksand that would drag all of us down and invite murkiness, disengagement, and distraction; however, we should not be afraid to try it.
We need to use wait time to gauge where children are in their quiet thinking journey. In that silence, we learn to reset our children’s priorities and help them shape meanings, ideas, and thoughts beyond what words can do.
Even when it’s not a seminar, let’s give our students think time. Let’s count down five to ten seconds before we move onto the next student or next thing on our list to teach.
Savor wait time. Let’s slow down.