by Mykel Mogg (’14)
Volunteering with the preschool readiness program at Excelsior Family Connections brings up personal challenges for me, specifically around power and teaching. My internship at Hoover last year also made me engage with this issue, but over almost two years, I have not been able to find peace with the level of coercion I am expected to use while teaching children. How can I, as an anarchist and a person who strives to take children seriously, be comfortable picking up a four-year-old and plopping her in a corner for not following rules? I don’t know whether coercion is necessary to all safe learning environments, but it is certainly a requirement for teaching in our current school system. I always try to be rational, patient, and respectful in the way I enforce rules with kids, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m exerting power over them– power that comes from the fact that I happen to be older. I never bring these issues up in the classroom, but I think about them a lot. Obviously, there’s no single answer to question, “how do I fit into a system that isn’t in line with my values?” It’s an internal dialogue that everyone has to go through at one time or another.
Besides thinking about power dynamics, my experience at EFC has been nothing but fun. I love showing up every Monday to see how the kids will interact with whatever toys and “science stations” we’ve put out that day, because they always subvert expectations. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of a messy classroom. Je Ton Carey, one of the teachers I work with, is a big proponent of sensory play. She brings in big tubs of sand, leaves, shaving cream, water, and homemade play-do to the classroom for the kids to interact with. Their senses of touch and smell come alive as they get their clothes wet, rip up flowers, and dump sand all over the floor. This reminds me of the true nature of education: helping people discover what’s amazing about the world.