They Have to Believe They're Free

On This American Life this weekend,there was a story about a man who raises geese in a new way. Eduardo Sousa shares the secret: the geese "have to feel like they're free". 

What fascinated me about this story is the difference between the way Mr. Sousa developed and then carried out his method on his farm in Spain, and the way another chef tried to implement that method here in the states. 

When the American chef invites Mr. Sousa to his New York farm to see his operation, Mr. Sousa is surprised to see things like a hatching room and incubators. He cautions the Americans not to touch the chicks, because their touch will communicate "love and domestication" rather than wildness. Mr. Sousa reminds them that the geese don't need high quality feed.  "They'll eat anything if they think that they're wild. But that's the key: they have to think, from the moment they're born, that they're just passing through, that they're not part of this movie," he says, gesturing at the admittedly cinematic fields."

The way that Eduardo Sousa thought through what it would take to raise geese so they feel wild was incredibly thorough. It seems that every nuance of food, nest, and even the tone of voice he took with them was thought through very carefully, always with "they have to feel like they're free" in mind. According to the story, these geese felt so happy that they would call to wild geese flying by, and convince them to join the flock on Eduardo's farm. It still hasn't translated so far to the US context.

This reminds me of what so often happens when a teacher tries to adopt a method, rather than taking the time to really think about the ideas behind it and to adapt those ideas to their own classroom. It takes time, it takes noticing and reflection, and a certain tolerance for failure to really learn a new way of teaching. It also takes a willingness to give up control of the classroom. Many teachers I have met are too afraid to risk giving up that tight control of the media, the schedule, and even of the goal of covering all of the material to really change what they do. They are scared that the children won't get all the facts they'll need, or that the Parents will get mad, or that the classroom will be a mess. So they do a little bit of the new thing hoping that will make a difference.

Here's the thing... whether your new idea is "they have to feel like they're free", or "children have multiple intelligences" or "4 year olds struggle for power", I think it's so important to slow down and be as thoughtful as you can. Listen to your inspiration carefully, read what they say, but make sure you think about the reasons why it's worth trying that at your school. Teaching with integrity requires a lot more than reading a guidebook or installing any piece of furniture. It is only in noticing and reflecting on your practice with your goals and intentions in mind that you can move toward the noble but maybe unattainable goal of perfecting your teaching.

here are links to stories about Mr. Sousa and the geese-

time magazine article


  1. Such an insightful post. I am going to share this with my colleagues. I have changed my methods a lot over the years and it can feel like giving up control. But once you get comfortable, that feeling goes away and I find I am more willing to try new things and look at the children and classroom from a different perspective. I have gradually moved to an emergent curriculum and this year that is all I have done and it seems that just when I have no idea where it's gong, an idea bubbles up from the children to keep us moving, learning and fully engaged.

  2. Yes yes yes and did I say yes? As I mentor and teach adults in a Art/Education Cert. program-this is an ongoing struggle. I will go so far as yell BURN THE WORKSHEETS IN YOUR VISUAL ARTS PRACTICE! (I am an opinionated professor on this matter.) Still, during finals, which students were to simulate a class workshop, give a verbal response to participants and write a paper, I still had a student start the workshop with a worksheet warm-up which included vocab words for textures. AND she is already teaching. While many of the class did a paradigm shift and are taking amazing risks-there are still some that are so resistant. I loved this post and the story you retell from NPR. I so wish you were my neighbor, and we could meet for tea.


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