Friday, May 14, 2010

Treating children with respect and dignity

Quotes from Jim Greenman
Jim Greenman is one of my favourites. He wrote about quality early childhood environments for many years and his messages are still so very relevant. I just came across some quotes from Jim that are worth sharing.

Institutions allow little privacy, justified by the lack of space and the need for order and security to protect the members from themselves and each other. There is a very small personal zone, the area surrounding an individual that the individual can claim ("get outta my face"). There is often no way to own time or space, except perhaps during punishment. The child care equivalent: limited, secluded, or cozy areas.

There is in many areas a growing unfortunate simplistic tendency to confuse supervision with surveillance; the children must be under the observation of adults every second - thus large open spaces and no seclusion. This replaces the more sophisticated concept that supervision also includes a safe, planned "yes" environment, shared expectations, socialized children, and adults who are aware about what is happening without needing to become omniscient wardens.

Dignity and Respect
Institutions rarely leave much room (literally) for dignity and respect. Simple kindness is not enough to over-come the loss of individuality, privacy, and responsibility. Total institutions are not places where life is to be lived in all of its joy and drama. Joy and drama are too unwieldy. It is easier to turn day-to-day life into mostly pageant - ritual doings and observations. Drama has fire, the hint of chaos, sensuality, and intense moments of concentration and the intricate mini plays of social life. It is engagement with life. Thomas Merton commented once that civilization was heading toward lives of low definition with little to decide, an apt description of institutional living.

Total institutions arise not because of evil or ignorance, but out of legitimate concerns for order, smooth standard operations, and the well being of the inhabitants as a group. They become mindless as they lose sight of the individual and the real goals, the end goals, as they concentrate on the means. Order takes precedence over mental health in asylums, education in schools, rehabilitation in prisons, and childhood in those child care centres that fit the description.

Childhood depends on some precious formula of freedom and mess. Until institutionalized through child care, children in the most structured homes could usually break through the concrete web of good intentions and find the cracks, alive with possibilities for movement, exploration, and discovery-in the room, under the bed, in the back yard, on the stoop, alone or with friends. These were times when adult sanctions were weakened, allowing exploration of forbidden words with delicious hard consonant syllables and intriguing substances. These were times when space opened up rather than contained; and jumps, shouts, and giggles pierced the air. More centres can have the same feel by being alert to the dehumanizing tendencies that are ever-present.

1 comment:

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