Leaving Behind the Given: Searching for a room that isn't there anymore

CeeCee's parents came to school with a question she had been asking at home; Where is the Meadow room? Her (now first grade) brother was in the Meadow room when he was in preschool. But where did it go? CeeCee wanted to know because she is in the Rainbow room, and the Meadow room would be next. But if it's not there anymore, would there be a classroom for her? This is a really knotty problem. Where does something go when it's gone? The four walls that held the Meadow room still exist. Yet somehow the Meadow room isn't there. The problem encompasses time, because brothers and sisters used to be in the Meadow room, and children will be going somewhere next. The Meadow room is a permanent thing in our ideas about preschool, yet it has slipped out of the physical space. That is how we started looking for the Meadow room.

When Hermann Weyl wrote that, he was talking about asking questions in physics and mathematics that are beyond the 'given'. As near as I can understand, he was talking about something like the ZPD- looking beyond your comprehension into areas that are just beyond, and forming theories that push into new realms of understanding. I would like to understand more about the scientific and mathematical imagination, because it seems to me like there is an area where artists and physicists meet, way out in the liminal space beyond what is known. 
Back here in the classroom, I've been wondering if consciousness is jumping over it's own shadow when children form hypotheses that cause them to go between logical and magical thinking. This happens often when a small group encounters a phenomenon that puzzles them and that they can't explain based on what they currently know. For instance, children noticing a rainbow projected on a wall in their classroom might look near the window and point to something that might be reflecting or refracting light. But at the same time they may talk about the rainbow visiting as if it is a friend. Like the oldest fairy tales illuminate real human struggles, I think magical thinking fills in gaps when children's observation fails to explain.


Magical Thinking and Alternative Facts


 The 3 and 4 year old children made up a game of 'powers' in which two children stand on a carpet square and then 'psh psh psh' their powers at each other. Other children sit to the side and often draw the action and cheer. After they had been playing this game for a while, we teachers began to wonder how to take the thinking further.


We came up with some questions; What color are your powers? What sound do they make? Could I borrow your powers? We encouraged each child to make a mask, cape and a pocket to hold their powers.


"Real animals don’t have any powers. Stories have powers. Yeah, in stories they have powers. Not any kind of real animals can’t do stuff. Can’t do stuff that powers can do, no. We play stuff but it’s not powers."
Anna Hart, you have powers, don’t you?
Hart "No. I have pretend powers. Just when I freeze stuff, and when it’s dark. It only comes out when I’m mad, or scared."

The back and forth between magical thinking and theory making is a big thread running through projects I'm working with right now. In the example above children talk about super

powers as something they really have and as something that occurs only in stories at virtually the same time. I always love the magic and metaphysical bits that come up in school, but given what's happening in the media right now, I've had a little uncharacteristic worry about 'letting' children form their own ideas. "Am I encouraging 'alternative facts'? Should I make sure that I tell everyone the correct answers?" I'm usually confident in my belief in social constructivism, but lately these questions have been popping up in my mind. My usual technique when I have doubts or fears is to look at the research. Going back to the theory reinforces the idea that time for questioning and experience are the most important thing I can give to the children I work with. Let's all get used to looking at the world through the eyes of others!

As Dewey, (who above all else committed himself to democracy) wrote; 
                  "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction".

Reading Dewey and Bruner has reminded me that helping to raise people who feel that their voices matter is the way I can contribute to our social consciousness. I know in my heart that exploring power is a way children come to understand social dynamics, good and bad, and theory of mind. 

"Only he who has a different visual opening can see the world in another way and can pass on to his neighbour the information required to broaden his field of view...let us get used to looking at the world through the eyes of others." Bruno Munari


Thinking About Martin Luther King

Last year about this time, Elaine and Lisa sent some (4/5 year old) children from the Rainbow room to the studio because they wanted to make a birthday song for Martin Luther King. Here is a little bit of their conversation as they made instruments to accompany the song:

Charlie "He (Martin) used to be a good-est person of all and he said
'It makes no fair that some children be in a bad school and somebody else’s children be in a good school. I want all my children to be in a fair place. Not a bad place'!"

Anna "What if you grow up and you make speeches into a microphone?'”

Kirsten "I would say ‘Everyone!, you should eat fruits and veggies, and not too much candy, and listen to what Martin Luther King says! No, people! Do not hate people! Love everybody, don’t hate anybody! It’s fair!, it’s fair!"

Sammy "And also ‘don’t kill anybody'!"

Kirsten "Don’t shoot them with a gun!"

Sammy "Don’t kill anybody with a gun!"

Kirsten "Also children shouldn’t play with guns. Not real ones. Did you know guns are actually still available?"

Kirsten explains the group “We made maracas to do a song to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, but not like ‘happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Martin…’ not that song.”

Anna "At first Kirsten was singing a song that had a lot of energy and was bouncy.."

Will "Sam P was singing 'Peace like a river'.. But then Charlie said ‘wait a minute, it should be a sad song'".

Charlie "Because he- Martin Luther King died".

Sammy “And we want to be kind, 'cause we are sad that Martin Luther King died, and we are tough and strong and brave".

Kirsten "Love!"

Will "And we want to be kind, for Martin Luther King…"

Charlie "and Peace!"

Sammy "and Joy!"
Sammy M., thinking about Martin Luther King in jail. "The person with the mustache is saying out 'It should be fair!'"

Kirsten "Martin got in jail because the police wanted to stop him."
Charlie "We will make a sad song for Martin Luther King because he died".

"I want to make a pretend Martin Luther King"