169. About a Disagreement

I was talking about school with a friend who grew up and went to school in Europe. It became clear, after a little discussion, that we had two very different conceptions of school and childhood. Having grown up and gone to school where I did, and how I did, I saw childhood and school less as preparation for life and more as part of life. My European friend saw childhood as a time to learn as much as possible; later on, there wouldn’t be as much time to concentrate on learning, so children had better learn as much as possible in school. She said that children in European schools were expected to acquire skills and accumulate knowledge at a rate that did not allow a lot of time for playing.
Disagreeing does not have the urgency it used to have for me. I do not feel that it is my sacred mission to convert my friend – to convince her that children need time to play, and that there ought to be much more to childhood than acquiring knowledge and skill. I don’t think my point of view, however successfully articulated, is going to change her mind. She has achieved a degree of knowledge and skill that is right for her. Now, she’s seeking more knowledge and skill in college. From her point of view, that is what will make life work, and that’s how education should look.
And her point of view, or close facsimiles thereof, are shared by many people in our culture. In fact, as a teacher, I often got in trouble by articulating my point of view at the wrong time. There were parents and administrators who did not want a teacher to talk about children’s need for fun. That’s what vacations were for. School is for making sure children can get good jobs and do the jobs well.
Perhaps part of the reason I don’t feel the urgency I used to feel is that I don’t have to protect my job any more. I’m confident that having me for a teacher was not just fun and games – that I helped children learn things that later proved useful in doing well on tests, and in finding and keeping jobs. But I’m also confident that I taught children things that don’t have much to do with their employability, and I’m proud of that teaching.
Two people don’t have to be from different continents or countries to have different cultural perspectives. There are cultures galore right in our own country, and to some degree, each person is a culture. I used to think all disagreements were born of misunderstandings. I still think many are. But some aren’t, and though it can be a challenge to disagree comfortably, and respectfully, it’s nice to know it can be done.

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