A Caring Encounter

2015-08-08 20.47.42

It’s indoor recess. I am making the rounds, and uncharacteristically, having a fairly easy time of it. I head into each classroom, make some small chat and then move my way along to another room to do more of the same. I arrive in one room where a student sits at his desk, a scowl on his face. I crouch down beside him to chat.

“Go away,” he says forcefully.

Undeterred, I maintain a calm demeanor and persevere.

“I haven’t chatted with you for a while, how are things?” I ask, smiling hopefully.

“Go away,” he says again. “I don’t want to talk to you. LEAVE.”

I am a little taken aback, but still undeterred. I walk out of the room. Collecting my thoughts, I think of an idea, turn on my heels and then go back to him again. It is an idea that I hope connects.

Take two. I offer him an opportunity.

“Leave.”

This time, I do.

In thinking of care, I am reminded that not all the ways I offer care will be accepted. In fact, I don’t always offer care that students may want right now…or even want later. Sometimes the best care you can give a student is to listen and learn. Not act, not do, not react, not offer. Just listen.

In listening that day, I realized that for the caring process to be completed, the student has to receive my care. Not return it: just receive it.

The best care I could give in the above scenario was to listen and give time for this student to return to a state of calm himself. Not pushing, not expecting. Not even offering judgement.

Just waiting.

Because waiting is a way to care when we don’t know what else to do.

Nel Noddings (2005) talks about care being reciprocal. That sounds like a mutual effort, in which I care for you and then you care back for me. But in caring relations, the reciprocal just simply means received. During caring encounters, Noddings (2005) describes the state of consciousness of the one-caring as characterized by attentive receptivity and a desire to respond in a way that furthers the cared-for’s purpose or requirement at hand. The cared-for’s consciousness is then characterized by reception, recognition and response. “The cared-for receives the caring and shows that it has been received” (Noddings, 2005, p. 16). Thus, the recognition that the one-caring gets in return from the one being cared-for is what completes the caring encounter, providing a completion of the encounter.

Care, according to Noddings (2005), is a relation, connection or encounter between two or more persons, with one person acting in the role of caregiver and the other (s) acting as the receivers of that care (p. 15). For this type of connection to be characterized as a caring one, the care given by the caregiver must be received by the cared-for; if this does not occur, the encounter cannot truly be called a caring relation.

Noddings (2005) continues:
When we care for others, we attend and respond as nearly as we can to expressed needs. When we have to refuse a request— because we lack the necessary resources, find the request unwise, or even evaluate it as morally wrong— we still try to support a caring relation. It can be very difficult, but our purpose is to connect with the other, to make both our lives ethically better— not to overcome, defeat, ostracize, or eliminate him (Noddings, 2005, p. xxv)

A request to ‘leave’ is an expressed need. So is the request to ‘go away’. I also perceived that this student needed time and patience from me as well. When I gave it, it was received.

And thus, a caring encounter had occured— regardless of the outcome.

Advertisements

On Fighting in the Family

It’s supper time in our house. As soon as we all come together, it seems the tensions rise. Someone did something to someone else and it just continues to unravel from there. Words fly, accusations are tossed about. Insults become pointed. Sarcasm is certainly the lowest form of wit, Wilde got that right. Everyone thinks their version of the story is the right one, and they are willing to put anyone else on the chopping block so as to maintain face. This is how it sometimes can be when families gather around the table.

And on other nights, I am reminded that civil behaviour is possible. We can show kindness and love. We can be gracious. We can treat one another respectfully. It is possible- there is hope.

Yesterday, I browsed through one of my favorite blogs and was disheartened to find a full-fledged debate about the hot topic of homosexuality and what people believed about such. There were a lot of “I thinks” and verses to sway one side to the other. And on and on it went- one mean-spirited comment after another. I say I was ‘disheartened’ because every time these debates occur, there is in-fighting amongst believers, non-believers and otherwise. And such mean-spiritedness. And hatred. And, ugh…it is all so ugly. It rather reminds me of a family at suppertime fighting about what they believe so strongly to be right- so much so that they would be willing to throw their fellow brother and sister under the bus so as to prove their point.

I am reading a great deal about care these days and one care theorist that I have studied in great depth is Nel Noddings. In her groundbreaking book on caring in schools, she had this to say: “the living other is more important than any theory”. And while I hesitate to include this quote as a blanket-statement, I do think that we often sacrifice the people in our lives for creeds or doctrines we hold as truths. We make adherence to a certain dogma more important than the people we live and work alongside. And while I think there are things we can live and die by- while I believe in truth and holiness and justice and all things good and right, I do not think it is ever worth sacrificing one’s brother or sister- throwing them under the bus to get trampled for the sake of an argument. For the sake of a debate. Debates like these drive wedges deeply between people, Christian or otherwise. As I have watched martyrs for the sake of the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus’ love for us) give their lives for the truths they hold near and dear to their hearts, I cannot help but see in their faces a unity with their brothers and sisters. There is no debating the current topical issues as you stand on the line, your life in the balance at the behest of a terrorist- your fellow brothers and sister in Christ lined up on either side. Clarity and lucidity suddenly comes into full view when the eternal things that really matter are before your eyes.

I love the verses in the Bible that call us to clarity. Verses like Micah 6:8 (NIV):
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Ours is not to do the work of the Spirit of the Living God, acting as our brother or sisters conscience. We have enough work to do in our own lives without trying to take on the job of making decisions for someone else. Getting inside their heart and head so as to figure things out- we don’t know their heart. And we never truly will. The heart is a private place that only the individual and the supernatural are given entry to. We can observe, but we can never truly know. We need to stop playing God. We are not God.

We have just celebrated that glorious of Christian holidays: Good Friday leading way to Easter Sunday. We have risen with Christ- we are no longer counted as among the dead. Why do we continue to live like we are counted among the defeated? It is God who has given us life, we are no longer in chains bound by our own pride and arrogance and superiority. We are free to walk humbly with God. And free to trust that God is doing a work in the hearts of women and men that no eye can see nor ear can hear. His work is often in the secret places- He works that way. With a still small voice.

In the secret.

I love this verse as well, and I believe that for Christians such as me- who have known Christ for a good long time, it is an important one for us to remember first and foremost:

Psalm 51:10 (NIV): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

This verse calls us as people of God to remember- the work that we so desperately feel MUST be done in others lives, really begins in our own hearts. God works personally. He doesn’t call us to look to the left or to the right- to see what our brothers and sisters are doing wrong (like children fighting at a supper table): He calls us to look inside of our own hearts to see if there is anything there that stands between us and the Father.

Finally, I love these verses about how to act toward our brothers and sisters in Christ- or anyone else, for that matter:
John 13:34-35 (ESV): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

By our love, people will know that we love Him. What beautiful words to live and grow and breathe by.  May this timeless truth be so in our lives today- that they know us by our love.

The problem with schooling: We don’t value the whole child

I am sitting here at my desk in the far corner of my kindergarten room. My room is bright and inviting, full of interesting things to discover and explore.  There is a play-kitchen center where children can use their imaginations to pretend they are a short-order chef or a store-owner.  A puzzle and games center for problem-solving.  A wooden theatre for using puppetry in the telling of creative stories and singing songs.  There is a writing station, a book area, an easel and a chalkboard.  And there are lots of toys that can be used for a multitude of purposes for which the imagination holds no boundaries.

In my classroom, there are little people.  Some of these little people like to sing.  Some like to dance and jump.   They love to roll and skip and hop and run. They love to talk and share and discuss.  Every one of them will often have so many ideas bursting through their amazing minds that they will share things with me all at once- their voices creating a cacophony of overwhelming sound.  I often have to remind them that only one person can share at a time, as Mrs. Gard (in her (ahem!) seniority), has ears that can only pay heed to one single voice speaking at once.  The fact that they delight in the ‘telling’ cautions me to never discourage them.

In my classroom, we learn how to read and count.  These foundations of learning are certainly a priority.

But we also learn the following:

*how to work out problems with a friend

*how to grow a plant

*how to share our feelings

*how to be a friend

*how to co-operate

*how to participate in group activities

*how to respect individually-owned and classroom-shared property

*how to take responsibility for our belongings

*how to ask for help

* how to take care of personal needs

*how to express ideas and feelings through play, through music, through art, through dance

* how to choose materials in our day-to-day learning and then use them in a variety of ways (one of which is our recyclable bin which often has supported the building of airplanes and robots)

* how to respect another individual’s personal space

I think most would agree- these are worth-while endeavors for learning, both in the kindergarten classroom and beyond.  Yes, reading and counting (literacy proper and numeracy proper) are valued in our kindergarten classroom.  But these ideals are not everything we believe is important for learning. For in this room, we place importance and value on more than just the children’s minds: we place value on more than merely the use of anyone’s mind-my own mind included, for that matter.  In this room, we value hearts and hands and feet and whole bodies.

Our learning is not just centered within our heads.

One way we accomplish this goal is through learning using the five senses.  When we learn about apples, we don’t just count them- we pick them and touch them and smell them and taste them.  When we learn about plants, we grow them- feeling the dirt beneath our fingernails.  When we learn about pumpkins, we plunge our hands into their slimy centers to discover the seeds that lie within.  We don’t just read about them in books or count manipulatives meant to represent them.

We discover them.

And to be honest, these things are really not all there is to the learning accomplished.  For when we are learning about apples, what we are really learning to do is appreciate that food comes from somewhere- that if we don’t grow food, we will have nothing to eat.  We are learning that  fruit growers (among other farmers) are necessary to our economy.  We are learning to value and appreciate the important work they do and the products they provide.

And when we learn about plants, we are learning how to work together in community- how to share the workload so that everyone has a job.  We are learning social responsibility and citizenship and ecological awareness.  And in learning about pumpkins, we are discovering that we can take creative risks- even for the ones who have never done something like this before.  For some have not ever experienced the joy that is pumpkin-carving. The joy that is a pumpkin seed bursting on their tongues. We are learning how to share and take turns, and in so doing- learning to value and respect one another.

In kindergarten, there has always been a strong emphasis placed on the whole child.  The child’s mind, their heart and their body.  We don’t separate the mind from the body or the heart from the mind- they all work together in harmony in this milieu.  So when we are learning in kindergarten, there are always multiple, myriad lessons underway- the most important of which are not usually academic.

I fear that in following and ascribing to the school format we have inherited and adopted that is focused on standardized testing and outcomes, we are valuing only one aspect of the child: that is, their head.  What could be defined as the cerebral. And while that is important and worthy, we are doing children a disservice if we are not appreciating the various aspects that make the whole child.  Particularly for children for whom the cerebral is not their main area of strength.  Their area of gifted-ness.

I would ask you to consider the following:

“The purpose of education has been debated for centuries.  Many educators and child development experts argue that the overarching goal of education is to promote the highest possible levels of cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and ethical development for each child.  The whole-child movement is based on the proposition that education must move beyond preparing children to become “well educated” citizens who are productive participants in the economic system.  Education must also cultivate in young people spirituality, reverence for the natural environment, and a sense of social justice.  Education must inspire children’s creativity, imagination, compassion, self-knowledge, social skills, and emotional health.  In this way, the term holistic education simply means cultivating the whole person and helping individuals live more consciously within their communities and natural ecosystems”(Miller, 2005).

In this way, education that is holistic in focus and purpose has at its focus yes, the intellect, but also the emotional composition, the social relations, the physical health and ability, the artistic sense, the creative capacity, and the spiritual potential.  “It seeks to engage students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility on the part of professionals charged with student’s development.” (Kochar-Bryant, 2010)

I believe that all classrooms are at potential risk- all classrooms are at potential crisis point.  We have sadly erred from the purpose of schooling in developing the individual as a whole in all aspects of being. But since I teach in a kindergarten classroom, I will write focused on this.  Our kindergarten curriculum is special.  Our classrooms are precious places set apart for discovery. We must not allow anyone to take away from us the joy we find in learning using our whole selves.  We must preserve the right children have to a curriculum that appreciates and understands the child as a person in all the aspects of their development. And we must encourage teachers to fight for what they believe in.

In my kindergarten room, we will (as we have always done): learn to count the desks, chairs and tables in our room and arrange geometric shapes into patterns.  But we will also learn how to care about these materials- how to respectfully use them and store them away when we finish play.  We will learn ideals about how to share and cooperate while playing and discovering.  And we will learn how to care for the materials and people with whom we interact in applying math principles to everyday living always with the intent to care and invest.

And in this room, we will also (again, as we have always done), value literacy goals like speaking and listening, reading and writing.  But we will do so for a higher purpose than just a check-mark on a report card.  We will value these foundational pillars for the ways in which they help us connect to the essential others in our world, having as our focus that learning is done so as to become the incredible friend, classmate, companion and group member we were meant to be.

This is the goal.

Nel Noddings (2003) has said that many of our schools are in a crisis of caring, failing to enable students to become caring, compassionate individuals as well as failing to model for them the same.  Let us not fail them in continuing to perpetuate the agenda that their mind was only made for the purpose of being a mathematical computer spitting out data.  Or as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge.

Let us remember: the mind was made to care.