Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Declaration of Independence

It’s Grandpa time with my darling Zadie and at near 10 months old, she’s hitting new milestones in the developmental climb. First and foremost, she’s crawling up a storm and getting herself upright, standing holding on with just one hand. So that developmental climb is literal as well as figurative. And she’s eating lots of solid food. She can drink water in her sippy cup and find her pacifier tied on to her stroller and use it as needed. In short, she has become increasingly independent. She sees something and she can crawl to get it. She’s hungry and she can pick up the offered biscuit. She needs to self-soothe and why, there’s the pacifier! The one missing piece is language. We’re still trying to guess what the heck she’s crying about and it will be nice to eventually say, “Use your words!”

When I first came to work at The San Francisco School, independence was the buzzword. Indeed, the Montessori Method the school was founded on (and we still use in the preschool) systematically teaches children increased independence, from shoe-tying, carrot-cutting and hurry-up-cake-baking to independence of thought as they make hypotheses and draw conclusions while working with the Montessori materials. In the elementary school, the children serve lunch and have classroom jobs and continue to develop their capacity to analyze, interpret, create, compose in all media. By middle school, their declarations of independence include clothing and hair styles, chosen music groups, taking the bus back and forth from school. In short, the journey to adulthood is a carefully gradated move toward increased independence, each earned by a natural or cultivated readiness and bringing it with it increased responsibility.

We admire the freedom of children, from the toddlers splashing naked in the fountain to the kids spending hours building towers with blocks or playing dress-up. But the irony is that every kid longs to be a grown-up and looks forward to the day when they can set their own bedtime, get in the car and go where they want, eat ice cream whenever they want and eat as much as they want. And it's true—these independent decisions are another form of freedom and one we adults indeed enjoy. What the kids don’t know yet is the consequence of going to bed too late and having to wake up early to go to work to pay for the gas in the car and then go to the gym to work off the calories from too much ice cream. With freedom comes responsibility and consequences. And that’s when we long to be kids again!

But the greatest freedom—and responsibility—is independence of thought, one that’s hard-earned and difficult, but perhaps the most important, especially in a democratic country dependent on intelligent decision-making. Those still sucking at the teat of their church or Fox News, waiting to be told what to do, what’s wrong or right, what’s true or false, who to vote for, are dangerous to the whole enterprise of democracy.

Well, that seems a long leap from celebrating Zadie able to find her own pacifier, but you can imagine why it’s on my mind as I think about what kind of future my granddaughter will have. And speaking of which, it’s time to go back to the game of me throwing her blocks in a box and her throwing them out. Symbolic? Already she doesn’t want to accept my block arrangement, but throw them out and do it herself. Way to go, Zadie!

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