Thanks again, for this thought provoking interview.
First, I have meant to tell you for some time now, that you are a remarkable interviewer in my opinion, the best of all I've ever heard- and the truth is, I have listened and watched MANY others, in my 69 years of life!
And this may sound bizarre, but it always seems to me, that you fall in love just a little bit, with every one you interview.
How else could/would someone listen so carefully, while seamlessly scaffolding the discussion, as you do? Then, bit by bit and very gently, you remove the scaffold, leaving a stunning work of art. The art of course, is the sum of the words and ideas that have emerged during the interview and now glow in that space between the two of you and the listeners. (How does she do it, I marvel. But don't tell me! Magic is too precious and in short supply these days......)
It is not only obvious that you are always well prepared, but you are so eager to engage and hear those you interview. I often wonder, "Does she ever get bored-- or decide to throw an interview out, before it is heard by the audience? Does the magic always work?" I have to say, I can't even imagine you throwing out an interview, so receptive and respectful are you, of the thoughts and stories of others. It is a rare and wonderful attribute you possess and I thank you for sharing it with us.
Regarding the program, this particular interview brought back to me, many days of parenting and teaching young children with special needs. Even more, it brought back to me, my own childhood and studying as a graduate student at Erikson Institute in Chicago.
The mention of Vygotsky was probably the trigger for recalling the single best educational experience I have ever had, which were my years at Erikson. Erik Erikson, Piaget and Vygotsky were mainstays of the graduate program at Erikson, which to this day is primarily devoted to intensive study and research of the child between conception and eight years of age.
Erikson is a place where one not only reads ABOUT Piaget, Erikson, Vygotsky and many other researchers, one actually reads all of their research and their books. Most important though, we were encouraged and were given time to discuss our reading with each other. Because only a portion of the students were teachers; there were doctors, nurses, social workers, community workers, child development researchers, fathers, mothers and many were from diverse cultures, countries etc., so a broad range of different points of view were heard and discussed.
It was a dynamic, fertile learning environment. I never worked so hard and learned so much in my life. I simply loved it!
The learning experiences I had at Erikson, were beyond any I had experienced in school, earlier in my life. I attended a lab school which was attached to a small university and where my father was a professor. One would think that I had the best teaching in that school. But I did not.
My education was unremarkable, which is a loss in my mind. As I recall my early school years, a nondescript blur of rules, regulations and boring assignments float to the surface. My only stimulating and exciting recollections revolve around social interactions between the students and occasionally, with a well-liked teacher. Art and science were intriguing to me, but that interest was never noticed or nourished during my school days. I did well, had good grades, without working hard and I was not inspired. School was a bore. There was a lot of sitting involved and passively listening to teachers.
Fortunately, I was an avid reader, as were my parents and I was highly motivated to learn and encouraged to try new things. My home was full of books and my parents were educated and interesting. My father taught psychology, but he was a talented musician, as well. I constantly listened to classical music, took piano and dance lessons, read everything from encyclopedias to Nancy Drew, fairy tales and beyond. Most of my friends also had parents who taught at the university, so informal but enlightening educational moments permeated my home life and entered into my social relationships. My friends and I were "frequent flyers" at the town library!
But I think now about how even I, a child of a middle class, well educated and stable family, could have gained so much more in school. There is no doubt in my mind, that I missed a great deal.
Your interview reminded me that it was at Erikson, that I first comprehended the enormous value of playfulness and joy, as a critical component of learning. I learned that one of the first, most important things a baby learns, is the ability to view the world and share the experience, during "mutual regard" with others. Simply put, the normal baby learns early on, to share discoveries with others. It brings joy to all involved, so it is likely to be repeated and lead to more learning.
Imagination and creativity are powerful parts of hypothesizing and experimenting. It not only helps in questioning and wondering what is possible, but it helps one to overlook temporary incompetence and drives one toward mastery and self-confidence. Incidently, I learned at Erikson that almost all of my "best" professors had been fairytale addicts as children,too. It was a charming discovery, but it was instructive as well. Fairy tales embody the "ancient wisdom" that was discussed in your interview. Many fairy tales stress the importance of being able to think of novel solutions to problems. As discussed in your interview, we have lost our connections with that wisdom.
But there was one person I met at Erikson who stood out as a guest speaker and whose work fascinated me then and continues to fascinate me to this day. That woman is Vivien Gussin Paley, an author of many books about the learning processes and inner lives of children and their interactions with peers and adults. She is a former kindergarten teacher, the winner of a MacArthur Award for her work on the development of new techniques for using storytelling, story-dictation and acting the stories out, in the classroom. She also received the 1998 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Before Columbus Foundation.
Vivien's books have helped me crawl back inside a child's brain and experience once again, the inner thinking of a young child. From this special perch, I could watch and feel again how children actually think and how they make sense of the challenges they face. I was able to rediscover the way they resolve the same conflicts and fears that have been age-old themes of ancient stories.
Vivien is a compelling writer, creative teacher and she has the enviable gift of metacognition which never seems to fail her. She is highly disciplined in her commitment to accurately transcribe, describe and interpret the thinking and behavior of young children, but her books are never pedantic or boring.
Above all, she truly understands, respects and champions the need for play, in children's lives. She illustrates how language and concepts naturally develop and are never forgotten, if children are gently guided or left to work out their problems within the classroom. One cannot read her books without understanding that play is as crucial to intellectual development as it is to development of social skills and self confidence.
A prolific writer (especially when one considers that she has been a teacher by day) her book titles include:
In Mrs. Tully's Room (a childcare classroom for 2 yr.olds)
Mollie is Three: Growing Up in School
Bad Guys Can't Have Birthdays:Fantasy Play At Four
White Teacher (Kindergarden)
You Can't Say You Can't Play (Kindergarden)
Wally's Stories (Kindergarden)
The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter
The Girl With the Brown Crayon
Kwanzaa and Me:A Teacher's Story
The Kindness of Children
I searched your archives and did not find her name, so I assume you have not interviewed her. I think of her as being a perfect candidatefor one of your interviews, so I decided to suggest that you consider her. I can think of nothing that would be more enjoyable for me, than to hear the two of you discussing the learning and development of young children!
Quite selfishly, I hope you will consider it!
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