Yesterday’s 4th grade play rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland reminded my why I’m a teacher. The kids were just so damn funny! They really cracked me up—Tweedledum and Tweedledee coming up with one thing after another, the characters in the Tea Party scene as genuinely crazy as they’re supposed to be (and so much funnier than the tragic farce of that other Tea Party), the Cheshire Cat’s grin more riotous than any special effect, the Cards doing active Math under the Queen’s direction. Well, impossible to capture in print— you just had to be there (and are welcome to come on December 18th!).
I had my doubts about doing Alice in Wonderland. Read it again. It’s no surprise that Grace Slick sang about it in her White Rabbit song back in the drug-crazed ’60’s, because the whole thing is reminiscent of an LSD trip. (Not that I would know personally, because I never inhaled. J ) Crazy in a dream-like, nutty kind of way, with memorable bizarre characters, strange settings, eccentric associations. The scenes tend to run like the little metal ball careening down a pinball machine and lighting up areas of the brain usually comfortably unused.
Turns out that this kind of humor appeals to 4th graders and they’ve leaped beyond the bar to really have fun with it. And this is where the essence of their kid-dom comes shining through. Yesterday we rehearsed a group recitation of that insane poem Jabberwocky and they did it with such dramatic expression and expressive bodies and faces that the hairs on my arm started to rise. Truly a whispered aesthetic moment worthy of the name “art.” And then as the last whisper faded out, two of the boys whipped out some jingle bells they had grabbed from the shelf and started singing—well, you guessed it— Jingle Bells, with everyone boisterously joining in. Utter madness!
Now if I had been one of those sad kind of teachers that only cared about behavior management and class control and obedience and teaching youth to be solid, stalwart upright citizens, I would have yelled at them or punished them, shamed the delightful children they were and made them feel that they failed me by not being the miniature adults I expect them to me. Instead, I just cracked up. And so did the observing Interns. And that gave permission to the kids to BE kids. And in so doing, they were more motivated than ever to work hard and take the play rehearsal seriously and understand in some corner of their psyche that to be a contributing citizen begins with being exactly who you are in each stage of development.
I love kids. I really do. I find them more interesting, more compassionate, more funny, more vibrant, more alive than almost any adults I know. And yes, they’re also more annoying, more cruel, more whiny, more maddeningly impulsive and need some stretching to adulthood. But I’m in no hurry to adultify them. Having witnessed year after year of three-year olds evolving into 8th graders, I’m not worried that they’re not responsible every step of the way. They get there and they get there best if their childlike selves are honored and praised and enjoyed by adults every step of the way.
If I had to pick one rallying cry of effective education, it would simply be this:
“Let them be kids!”