Sunday, 1 July 2018

Malaguzzi - the Fox and the Grapes...

Sergio Spaggiari shared recently a personal memory from working in preschools in Reggio Emilia together with Malaguzzi. The memory struck a chord with me as it resonated with the thoughts and reflections I have been having about children's rights, about what is happening in USA and around the world... about play and the way it seems so hard to implement a whole child approach to learning despite there being so much research about the harm of standardised testing and the benefits of play. (In Swedish after the images... although NOT the quotes)

So I will share the quote... and then my reflections... (Italian, and then a translation, via google)

Malaguzzi, la volpe e l'uva.
Ho un lontano ricordo dei miei primi tempi del mio lavoro di pedagogista nei nidi e nelle scuole dell’infanzia di Reggio Emilia (1974/1975). Ero poco più che ventenne e con altre tre pedagogiste ero da poco entrato nell’equipe pedagogica. Ho memoria di un giorno in cui Loris Malaguzzi mi chiese: “e allora cosa avete combinato ieri?” Si riferiva, e l’avevo ben capito, all’incontro, da lui stesso sollecitato, dei 4 nuovi componenti dell’equipe, per discutere “in libertà” di come avevamo vissuto i primi mesi di esperienza.
Io, diplomaticamente e un po’ in imbarazzo, credo di aver risposto: “Ma è stato solo il primo incontro, dobbiamo ancora mettere a fuoco i punti di vista personali. Ma di certo non mancano criticità, diversità di vedute e desideri di aggiustamenti”. Lui allora mi disse: “Continuate a parlarvi, poi ci mettiamo intorno ad un tavolo e discutiamo tutti assieme.” Poi aggiunse: “Ma ricordatevi della favola di Esopo.” Io non capii e chiesi: “Ma quale?”
E lui precisò: Quella della volpe e dell’uva. Quando la volpe dovette rinunciare a mangiare l’uva del contadino, perché era troppo alta. Ma allontanandosi, commentava che l’uva era ancora acerba.”
Il messaggio poteva sembrare enigmatico, ma era anche esplicito.
Era un invito, forse, a non eccedere in criticità organizzative. Ma di certo era anche un richiamo a tenere ben presente che i bambini hanno diritto al meglio (alle cose alte) e non alla mediocrità.
Parlandomi della volpe e dell’uva, penso che Malaguzzi volesse dirci che chi lavora coi bambini deve accettare la difficile sfida di operare su livelli di eccellenza, non accontentandosi della medianità e delle cose semplici. In altre parole, maliziosamente, voleva far presente che spesso capita, a chi non è soddisfatto dei risultati conseguiti, di accusare le circostanze, per non esplicitare il timore di non sentirsi all’altezza della sfida pedagogica.
Io, diplomaticamente e un po’ in imbarazzo, credo di aver risposto: “Ma è stato solo il primo incontro, dobbiamo ancora mettere a fuoco i punti di vista personali. Ma di certo non mancano criticità, diversità di vedute e desideri di aggiustamenti”. Lui allora mi disse: “Continuate a parlarvi, poi ci mettiamo intorno ad un tavolo e discutiamo tutti assieme.” Poi aggiunse: “Ma ricordatevi della favola di Esopo.” Io non capii e chiesi: “Ma quale?” E lui precisò: Quella della volpe e dell’uva. Quando la volpe dovette rinunciare a mangiare l’uva del contadino, perché era troppo alta. Ma allontanandosi, commentava che l’uva era ancora acerba.”Il messaggio poteva sembrare enigmatico, ma era anche esplicito.Era un invito, forse, a non eccedere in criticità organizzative. Ma di certo era anche un richiamo a tenere ben presente che i bambini hanno diritto al meglio (alle cose alte) e non alla mediocrità. Parlandomi della volpe e dell’uva, penso che Malaguzzi volesse dirci che chi lavora coi bambini deve accettare la difficile sfida di operare su livelli di eccellenza, non accontentandosi della medianità e delle cose semplici. In altre parole, maliziosamente, voleva far presente che spesso capita, a chi non è soddisfatto dei risultati conseguiti, di accusare le circostanze, per non esplicitare il timore di non sentirsi all’altezza della sfida pedagogica.Malaguzzi, the fox and the grapes.I have a distant memory of my early days as a pedagogista in the nurseries and preschools of Reggio Emilia (1974/1975). I was just over twenty and, with three other pedagogistas, I had recently entered the pedagogical team. I remember one day when Loris Malaguzzi asked me: "So what did you do yesterday?" He was referring, and I understood it, to the meeting, which he himself solicited, of the 4 new members of the team, to discuss "In freedom" of how we had lived the first months of experience.I, diplomatically and a little embarrassed, I think I replied: "But it was only the first meeting, we still have to focus on personal points of view. But certainly there is no lack of criticality, diversity of views and desires for adjustments ". He then said to me: "Keep talking to you, then we'll sit around a table and discuss all together." Then he added: "But remember Aesop's fable." I did not understand and asked: "But which one?"And he specified: That of the fox and the grape. When the fox had to give up eating the farmer's grapes, because it was too high. But moving away, he commented that the grapes were still sour. "The message might seem enigmatic, but it was also explicit.It was an invitation, perhaps, not to exceed organizational problems. But certainly it was also a reminder to keep in mind that children are entitled to the best (to high things) and not to mediocrity.Talking about the fox and the grapes, I think that Malaguzzi wanted to tell us that those who work with children must accept the difficult challenge of operating on levels of excellence, not being content with mediumship and simple things. In other words, maliciously, he wanted to point out that it often happens, to those who are not satisfied with the results achieved, to accuse the circumstances, not to explain the fear of not feeling up to the pedagogical challenge.

I think this happens more often than we think. We are unable to attain the high standard children have the right to... and instead of looking to ourselves and seeing what we can do to make change we blame the situation we find ourselves in instead.

But I also think that making change is so much harder on your own... it is possible, but it requires that other listen and want to make a change, it requires bravery.

I believe that the school system has grounded many down when they were children - I have referred to this when talking about "Thinking outside the Box" a few years ago... when I talked about this with my children at home my daughter simply replied that "my box is bigger in the inside and travels through time and space" - she had of course been  influenced by the British TV series Dr Who, but it did make me think about it in a whole new way. That we as children have our own unique boxes, all different, all designed to help us learn, develop and evolve into the person we should be... it is our potential.
Society is filled with stereotypes and norms... these can be helpful as they guide us in understanding the community we belong to... but they are also restrictive... so even from our young age our boxes are being shaped into what is allowed and what should be there... and then when children start school it is almost as if they are told to hand over their personalised boxes and step inside a uniform, plain moving box... each child the same, each being filled with the same knowledge and the same expectation... some children are able to fit their own boxes nicely into the moving box, they do not need to give it up, they know how to camouflage... others work hard at trying to make it fit and spend to much energy doing that and become exhausted by school... others just abandon their box and take the new one, and others totally refuse and often pay the price for doing that (I see this in my son, he refuses to compromise who he is when he sees no-one makes any effort to appreciate the beauty and the benefits that his box actually brings).

I was lucky... I was able to camouflage my box throughout my school years, to still be me and take on what was useful from school too... But then I was lucky that my primary years and my early secondary years were at schools that appreciated not just the academics but also art, music. theatre, play and whole child learning... I was lucky indeed.

So what does this all have to do with the grapes?
Well many of those children who gave up their boxes are now teachers themselves - and in those boxes they gave up was the ability to see themselves honestly, as well as much of their creativity and imagination... that would help them devise new ways to get those grapes... maybe by not working alone!! And not wanting them for just themselves.
There are plenty of teachers that never gave up their box, or have been able to rediscover it/be renuited as an adult... and they can bring this with them to the classroom to enable children of today to keep a hold of their own unique boxes rather than hand them over to the educational system.
They get to use all 100 languages so to speak, and not just the ones that the schools deem fit to pack into the educational box.

Also in the educational system with tests, exams and standardisation then being wrong is something you want to avoid at all costs... it is not a learning tool (as it should be) but a punishing tool - you get lower grades, get less options in your future...
This is not how we should be treating potential.

I have worked at settings where evaluation has been about what they have done, and often making it more rose-tinted than it should have been... I like to be brutally honest, because in that honesty I can see where I need to learn, what I have missed, try to understand how and why I missed it and think of ways that I can improve as an educator. This is not an easy process... but we also need to do this with the setting... what has the setting provided the children... and where has it failed... and to see failure as the first step in learning rather than a reason to be ashamed.
I have had friends that have been sent out of excursions on the day the setting was being inspected to ensure the truth was kept from the authorities and only the positives were shared. I think this is a huge part of the problem as to why there are huge gaps between settings that can offer the children the grapes and those settings that complain about the quality of the grape not being worth picking, or not even avoiding accepting they tried to get them in the first place...

I think if settings were given incentive to be honest, instead of being punished, then we could reduce this quality gap... and by this I mean they are given support to address the areas they need help with, rather than being rapped on the knuckles with a ruler (measuring quality). If settings knew they could get the support to improve areas they were lacking rather than being just left to their own devices  then I think a great deal can be achieved.

We need to help educators re-unite with their childhood boxes - to understand play, to remember how to listen in a hundred languages - and not just let them try to find the answer in this moving box they were given at school... because the answer is not there.

After the Swedish translation there are some links to posts that might be useful for continued reflection... including my original post on thinking outside the box.








Jag tror det händer oftare än vi tror. Vi kan inte nå den högkvalitet barn har rätt till ... och istället för att titta på oss själva och se vad vi kan göra för att skapa förändring skyller vi på situationen vi befinner oss i istället. Men jag tror också att göra förändringar är så mycket svårare på egen hand ... det är möjligt, men det kräver att andra lyssna och vill göra en förändring, det kräver tapperhet. Jag tror att skolsystemet har malet många ner när de var barn - jag har hänvisat till detta när jag skrev om "Tänk utanför lådan" för några år sedan ... när jag talade om det här med mina barn hemma svarade min dotter att "min låda är större på insidan och färdas genom tid och rum" - hon hade självklart varit influerad av den brittiska tv-serien Dr Who, men det fick mig att tänka på det på ett helt nytt sätt. Att vi som barn har våra egna unika lådor, alla olika, alla utformade för att hjälpa oss att lära, utveckla till den person vi borde vara ... det är vår potential. Samhället är fyllt av stereotyper och normer ... det kan vara till hjälp eftersom dom hjälpa oss att förstå det samhälle vi tillhör ... men dom är också restriktiva ... så från och med vår unga ålder formas våra lådor till vad som är tillåtet och vad borde vara där ... och då när barn börjar skolan är det nästan som om de får höra att de måste överlämna sina personliga lådor och stiger inuti en enhetlig, vanligt flyttkartong ... varje barn ska vara lika, var och en fylls med samma kunskap och samma förväntan ... vissa barn kan anpassa sina egna lådor snyggt in i lådan, de behöver inte lämna över den, de vet hur man kamouflerar ... andra arbetar hårt för att försöka göra att det passa och spendera för mycket energi på det gör och bli uttömt av skolan ... andra överger bara sin låda och tar den nya, och andra vägrar helt och betalar ofta priset för det. (Jag ser det här i min son, han vägrar att kompromissa vem han är när han ser ingen gör någon ansträngning för att uppskatta skönheten och de fördelar som hans låda faktiskt ger). Jag hade tur ... Jag kunde kamouflera min låda under hela min skolår, för att fortfarande vara mig och ta på vad som var användbart från skolan också ... Men då hade jag tur att grundskolan var på skolor som uppskattade inte bara akademiska lärande utan också konst, musik. teater, lek och hela barns lärande ... Jag hade tur verkligen. Så vad har allt detta att göra med druvorna? Tja, många av de barn som gav upp sina lådor är nu lärare själva - och i dom lådor de gav upp var möjligheten att se sig själva ärligt, liksom mycket av deras kreativitet och fantasi ... som skulle hjälpa dem att utforma nya sätt att få dom druvorna ... kanske genom att inte arbeta ensam!! 
Det finns gott om lärare som aldrig gav upp sin låda eller har kunnat återupptäcka den som en vuxen ... och dom kan ta med sig den till klassrummet för att göra det möjligt för barn i dag att hålla sina egna unika lådor istället för att överlämna dom till utbildningssystemet. Dom får använda alla 100 språk så att säga, och inte bara dom som skolorna anser lämpliga att packa in i utbildningsboxen. Också i utbildningssystemet med test, prov och standardisering då är en fel något man vill undvika till varje pris ... Det är inte ett lärande verktyg (som det borde vara) men ett straffande verktyg - du får lägre betyg, då blir mindre alternativ i din framtid ... Det här är inte hur vi ska behandla potentialen. Jag har arbetat/besökt verksamheter där utvärderingen har handlat om vad personalen har gjort/lyckats med och gör det ofta mer ros tonade glasögon än det borde ha varit ... Jag gillar att vara brutalt ärlig, för att jag i ärligheten kan se var jag måste förbättra mig själv, vad jag har missat, försök att förstå hur och varför jag missade det och tänka på sätt som jag kan bli bättra som lärare. Det här är inte en enkel process ... men vi måste också göra det med verksamheten... vad har verksamheten försett barnen ... och var har den misslyckats ... och att se misslyckande som det första steget i lärandet snarare än en anledning att skämmas. Jag har haft vänner som har skickats ut på utflykter den dag verksamheten ska inspekteras för att säkerställa sanningen hölls från myndigheterna och endast positiva information delades. Jag tycker att det här är en stor del av problemet om varför det finns stora klyftor mellan verksamheter som kan erbjuda barnen druvorna och dom verksamheter som klagar på kvaliteten på druvan inte är värt att plocka eller inte ens undvika att acceptera de försökte få dom i första hand ...
Jag tror att om verksamheter fick drivfjädrar att vara ärliga istället för att straffas, så skulle vi kunna minska denna kvalitetsskillnaden... och därmed menar jag att de får stöd för att ta itu med de områden de behöver hjälp med snarare än att bli rappade på knogar med linjal (mätkvalitet). Om verksamheter visste att dom kunde få stöd för att förbättra bristande områdena snarare än att bara lämna till sina egna enheter, då tror jag att en hel del kan uppnås.

Vi behöver hjälpa lärare att återförena med sina barndomslådor - för att förstå lek, för att komma ihåg hur man lyssnar på alla hundra språk - och inte bara låta dom försöka hitta svaret i den lådan som de fick i skolan ... eftersom svaret är inte där.



LINKS
Thinking outside the box
Circle time... to do or not to do - don't just do things because you have always done them... reflect WHY and how do they help the child in their learning and development
Professional Development... how do we grow as teachers?
Democracy as a Relationship
Putting out fires - the frustration of adults not getting the support then need to be able to give children the quality they have the right to
The story of intolerance - the importance of looking at ourselves honestly to see how stereotypes and bias limit us
What it takes to be a preschool teacher - using circles to explore how you as a teacher are...

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