355. About a Contest

As a teacher, parent, and lover of children, I sometimes feel as if there is a secret contest going on. Teachers, parents, and other people who love children want to be unique, as I do – want to believe that they and only they REALLY understand and care about children, and that everyone else is insincere and/or misguided. We’ve thought a lot about the interactions we’ve seen and had with children, and we can’t believe that the special ideas and approaches we’ve come up with could possibly have occurred to anyone else. At first, that’s why I wrote these articles; who else could possibly write them?
But there are many of us. I’m glad there are, because if there were only one, I or whichever other person were the only one who can truly relate with children would have an awful lot of work to do. As I write these articles, sharing my experiences and insights and getting feedback from other adults who think about children, I often hear or read words that change my mind, or enhance my thinking. I’m gradually learning that even though my perspectives on children, teachers, and parents are unique, so are many other people’s perspectives. While that reality robs me of some glory, it also takes a lot of pressure off. I can take it easy a little, because many other people are doing some of the important work I thought I was doing alone.
I don’t think that it’s pure egotism that gets us thinking that we’re lone crusaders. Part of the reason, I think, is that working with children can be so isolating. Parenting, teaching, and other genres of child care are often done by one adult who is unable, not unwilling, to have much contact with other adults. When lonely parents and teachers observe situations in which they believe children are treated ineffectively, inappropriately, or otherwise wrong, they can start to think that’s how the rest of the world does it. It takes a certain kind of humility to be able to believe that other people may be doing fundamentally right things you haven’t thought of. And I think it’s hard to develop that humility in a vaccuum. I tried, and it didn’t work.
Now that I can comfortably say and think that I am not The World’s Greatest Teacher or The World’s Greatest Dad, I occasionally come across people who seem to believe that they are. Usually, they’re younger than I am – haven’t had enough time to make as many mistakes as I’ve made. I try not to sound the way some of my would-be mentors used to sound. I don’t think it’s ever true or useful to say, in effect, “I have been in the same situation you’re in now, have thought the thoughts you’re now thinking, and you’re wrong.”
I propose a truce. I propose that together, we who care about children
can do a much better job than any one of us can do alone. And we can share the gold medal.

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