“Knowledge not purchased by the loss of power!”

Children: How will they ever know who they are?

The question is the last line of  “The Things we Steal from Children” by Dr. John Edwards. You can read the whole below. I found it via Leading and Learning – a blog and website from New Zealand that I have long found valuable.

In a different time and context William  Wordsworth asked much the same questions in his remarkable poetic biography The Prelude His plea is for a children who have

“Knowledge not purchased by the loss of power!”

– William Wordsworth The Prelude Book V Line 425

“The Things We Steal From Children”

Dr John Edwards

If I am always the one to think of where to go next.
If where we go is always the decision of the curriculum or my curiosity and not theirs,
If motivation is mine,
If I always decide on the topic to be studied, the title of the story, the problem to be worked on,
If I am always the one who has reviewed their work and decided what they need,
How will they ever know how to begin?

If I am the one who is always monitoring progress.
If I set the pace of all working discussions,
If I always look ahead, foresee problems and endeavour to eliminate them,
If I swoop in and save them from cognitive conflict,
If I never allow them to feel and use the energy from confusion and frustration,
If things are always broken into short working periods,
If myself and others are allowed to break into their concentration,
If bells and I are always in control of the pace and flow of work,
How will they learn to continue their own work?

If all the marking and editing is done by me,
If the selection of which work is to be published or evaluated is made by me,
If what is valued and valuable is always decided by external sources or by me,
If there is no forum to discuss what delights them in their task, what is working,
what is not working, what they plan to do about it,
If they have not learned a language of self-assessment,
If ways of communicating their work are always controlled by me,
If our assessments are mainly summative rather then formative,
If they do not plan their way forward to further action,
How will they find ownership, direction and delight in what they do?

If I speak of individuals but present learning as if they are all the same,
If I am never seen to reflect and reflection time is never provided,
If we never speak together about reflection and thinking and never develop a vocabulary for such discussion,
If we do not take opportunities to think about our thinking,
If I constantly set them exercises that do not intellectually challenge them,
If I set up learning environments that interfere with them learning from their own actions,
If I give them recipes to follow,
If I only expect the one right conclusion,
If I signify that there are always right and wrong answers,
If I never let them persevere with something
really difficult which they cannot master,
If I make all work serious work and discourage playfulness,
If there is no time to explore,
If I lock them into adult time constraints too early,
How will they get to know themselves as a thinker?

If they never get to help anyone else,
If we force them to always work and play with children of the same age,
If I do not teach them the skills of working co-operatively,
If collaboration can be seen as cheating,
If all classroom activities are based on competitiveness,
If everything is seen to be for marks,
How will they learn to work with others?

For if they…
have never experienced being challenged in a safe environment,
have had all of their creative thoughts explained away,
are unaware what catches their interest and how then to have confidence in that interest,
have never followed something they are passionate about to a satisfying conclusion,
have not clarified the way they sabotage their own learning,
are afraid to seek help and do not know who or how to ask,
have not experienced overcoming their own inertia,
are paralysed by the need to know everything before writing or acting,
have never got bogged down,
have never failed,
have always played it safe,
how will they ever know who they are?

There’s something in the air, a revolutions on its way!

The things we steal?  The Edwards  list includes:

Challenge, imagination, magic, serendipity, passion, pursuit, insight, temerity, courage, support, energy, agency, initiative, frustration, failure, independence, self-knowledge.

And from Wordsworth:  All that, and Nature too:

05-08-09-chicks-henIn the extracts below I have bolded what I see as some key elements of Wordsworth’s thinking about childhood, education and his modern age.  It does not take a huge leap of imagination to see the parallels with our time. It’s easy to translate and replace his “evil”  and “pest” (lines 227 and 228) with the education “evil” of our own age.

Is the role of the adult learner-teacher that of Wordsworth’s hen – scratching and ransacking in,  then sharing and making available for discovery, a world of wisdom and knowledge in an atmosphere of tenderness and love?

…. yet I rejoice,
And, by these thoughts admonished, will pour out
Thanks with uplifted heart, that I was reared
Safe from an evil which these days have laid
Upon the children of the land, a pest
That might have dried me up, body and soul.
This verse is dedicate to Nature’s self,                   230
And things that teach as Nature teaches: then,
Oh! where had been the Man, the Poet where,
Where had we been, we two, beloved Friend!
If in the season of unperilous choice,
In lieu of wandering, as we did, through vales
Rich with indigenous produce, open ground
Of Fancy, happy pastures ranged at will,
We had been followed, hourly watched, and noosed,

Each in his several melancholy walk
Stringed like a poor man’s heifer at its feed,             240
Led through the lanes in forlorn servitude;
Or rather like a stalled ox debarred
From touch of growing grass, that may not taste
A flower till it have yielded up its sweets
A prelibation to the mower’s scythe.

Behold the parent hen amid her brood,
Though fledged and feathered, and well pleased to part
And straggle from her presence, still a brood,
And she herself from the maternal bond
Still undischarged; yet doth she little more               250
Than move with them in tenderness and love,
A centre to the circle which they make;
And now and then, alike from need of theirs
And call of her own natural appetites,
She scratches, ransacks up the earth for food,
Which they partake at pleasure.

My drift I fear
Is scarcely obvious; but, that common sense
May try this modern system by its fruits,

Leave let me take to place before her sight
A specimen pourtrayed with faithful hand.
Full early trained to worship seemliness,
This model of a child
is never known
To mix in quarrels; that were far beneath                  300
Its dignity; with gifts he bubbles o’er
As generous as a fountain; selfishness
May not come near him, nor the little throng
Of flitting pleasures tempt him from his path;
The wandering beggars propagate his name,
Dumb creatures find him tender as a nun,
And natural or supernatural fear,
Unless it leap upon him in a dream,
Touches him not. To enhance the wonder, see
How arch his notices, how nice his sense                   310
Of the ridiculous; not blind is he
To the broad follies of the licensed world,
Yet innocent himself withal, though shrewd,
And can read lectures upon innocence;
A miracle of scientific lore,
Ships he can guide across the pathless sea,
And tell you all their cunning; he can read
The inside of the earth, and spell the stars;
He knows the policies of foreign lands;
Can string you names of districts, cities, towns,
The whole world over, tight as beads of dew
Upon a gossamer thread; he sifts, he weighs;
All things are put to question; he must live
Knowing that he grows wiser every day
Or else not live at all, and seeing too
Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
Into the dimpling cistern of his heart:
For this unnatural growth the trainer blame,
Pity the tree.–Poor human vanity,
Wert thou extinguished, little would be left               330
Which he could truly love; but how escape?

For, ever as a thought of purer birth
Rises to lead him toward a better clime,
Some intermeddler still is on the watch
To drive him back, and pound him, like a stray,

Within the pinfold of his own conceit.
Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find
The playthings, which her love designed for him,
Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.
Oh! give us once again the wishing-cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St. George!
The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.

These mighty workmen of our later age,
Who, with a broad highway, have overbridged
The froward chaos of futurity,
Tamed to their bidding; they who have the skill            350
To manage books, and things, and make them act
On infant minds as surely as the sun
Deals with a flower; the keepers of our time,
The guides and wardens of our faculties,
Sages who in their prescience would control
All accidents, and to the very road
Which they have fashioned would confine us down,
Like engines; when will their presumption learn,
That in the unreasoning progress of the world
A wiser spirit is at work for us,                          360
A better eye than theirs, most prodig
Of blessings, and most studious of our good,
Even in what seem our most unfruitful hours?

There was a Boy: ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander!–many a time
At evening, when the earliest stars began
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone
Beneath the trees or by the glimmering lake,

And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands             370
Pressed closely palm to palm, and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him; and they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call, with quivering peals,
And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud,
Redoubled and redoubled, concourse wild
Of jocund din; and, when a lengthened pause
Of silence came and baffled his best skill,                380
Then sometimes, in that silence while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind,
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received
Into the bosom of the steady lake.

This Boy was taken from his mates, and died
In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old.            390
Fair is the spot, most beautiful the vale
Where he was born; the grassy churchyard hangs
Upon a slope above the village school,
And through that churchyard when my way has led
On summer evenings, I believe that there
A long half hour together I have stood
Mute, looking at the grave in which he lies!
Even now appears before the mind’s clear eye
That self-same village church; I see her sit
(The throned Lady whom erewhile we hailed)                 400
On her green hill, forgetful of this Boy
Who slumbers at her feet,–forgetful, too,
Of all her silent neighbourhood of graves,
And listening only to the gladsome sounds
That, from the rural school ascending, play
Beneath her and about her. May she long
Behold a race of young ones like to those
With whom I herded
!–(easily, indeed,
We might have fed upon a fatter soil
Of arts and letters–but be that forgiven)–               410
A race of real children; not too wise,
Too learned, or too good
; but wanton, fresh,
And bandied up and down by love and hate;
Not unresentful where self-justified;
Fierce, moody, patient, venturous, modest, shy;
Mad at their sports like withered leaves in winds;
Though doing wrong and suffering, and full oft
Bending beneath our life’s mysterious weight
Of pain, and doubt, and fear, yet yielding not
In happiness to the happiest upon earth.                   420
Simplicity in habit, truth in speech,
Be these the daily strengtheners of their minds;
May books and Nature be their early joy!
And knowledge, rightly honoured with that name–
Knowledge not purchased by the loss of power!


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