Their Name is Today

Their Name is Today, by Johann Christoph Arnold

A friend sent me this wonderful book and I would like to recommend it to you. It may reaffirm your beliefs about children as it did for me, and it may set you thinking about priorities. In any case, it is good to be reminded of worthwhile considerations as we journey through the turmoil in the world around us. This book is so full of truth (as I see it) that I immediately sprang to attention. The undercurrent in all our political and educational discussions seem to leave out the child, the fairly simple act of looking into a child’s eyes, talking and listening. We have to consider and reconsider lest we become so out of tune with what is important because of the persistence of technological distractions, the barrage of sexual content and violence in our media, the focus on academic testing, the lack of respect for family and child care, and the leaving of our children’s emotional growth and development to others that comprise the world we are now living in.

My objections to all of it has been tempered by age, and the fact that I have been retired for 18 years, out of the classroom and away from young children for quite a long time. I miss all of it, and have only kept a small part of that whole genre and occupation in the writing of a few children’s books. I am out of sync with what is going on in education. I admit it. Yet some things are timeless. The importance of play in children’s lives, the need for security, and the great need for conversation and one on one affirmation that comes with sharing on a personal level. Children’s needs are always the same and if we are to raise generations of caring, respectful adults, we better be paying attention to those needs. I see a world of adults who are terribly busy, too busy trying to make ends meet and who are barely surviving in a financially troubled society, one that doesn’t care about families and children as much as it should. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for the children. Where are they? It is an ominous sign. Our children are increasingly becoming disconnected from nature, from the world of play, from exploring the outdoors, and solving problems that have to do with relationships and being human.

We see an educational system that tries its darnedest to make up for what society lacks. It seems to entail a desperation in the constant changes in curriculum, new methods every other year so that a teacher barely has time to get the kinks out of the last, latest method of teaching, rules get tighter, play (the real work of children) disappears behind the focus on reading and math skills, and the constant testing to prove that yes, we are trying so very hard. We have proof! When all is said and done, do we really? How are we doing compared to the rest of the world? Hmmmm. Not that well. Great diversity is our particular circumstance. And the more we try to bring everyone to a certain level by a certain time in the early years, the more difficult the situation becomes. The truth is what education comes from the home and from parents is more important than anything else we can do. A teacher, no matter what the teaching methods are, can never fill that vacuum however hard they try, and teachers everywhere are to be applauded for the amount of love and caring they offer every day.

We need to trust that love and caring, instead of asking them to follow educational mandates coming from above from people who more than likely are disconnected from children. Teachers do know what is best for their students. They don’t need their hands tied behind their backs by people who themselves don’t teach.

On the other hand, I applaud some of the standards that have been set up. We need them. A student graduating after 12 years of school should and must know certain things. The NY Regents exams at the end of each school year in the 50s were the bottom line of what you should know. Knowledge and understanding hopefully went way beyond the Regents questions, but at least there was that, the bottom line, and you couldn’t graduate without those answers. It is part of being a good citizen to know the history and geography of your country, to have some sort of perspective on what came before.

My objection is that we begin academic instruction too soon. We have obstructed play in the early years and traded it for phonics, writing sentences and paragraphs in kindergarten and “composing and decomposing” math concepts, along with allowing too much attention to video games and other technological distractions. My objection to that is that we are chipping away at childhood. Childhood is brief and of supreme importance to human development. Our respect for it should be reflected societally, educationally and politically. And above all, personally.

The author of “Their Name is Today”, Johann Arnold, quotes Franklin Roosevelt: “We all recognize that the spirit within the home is the most important influence in the growth of a child. In family life the child should first learn confidence in his own powers, respect for the feelings and the rights of others, the feeling of security and mutual good will. Mothers and fathers, by the kind of life they build within the four walls of the home, are largely responsible for the future social and public life of the country.”

–of the country. This is serious stuff. I have to admit when I was raising my kids, I didn’t think about the country so much as surviving and teaching kids to be good people, but it truly does mean we are preparing our children to live in a civilized society, and to approach life thoughtfully.

And it is through play in early childhood that these first learnings thrive. By exploring, testing, observing, participating in give and take with others, using imagination, acknowledging the creativity within and nurturing the development of respect and wonder – these untestable, fluid, open-ended learnings are the basis for attributes that last a lifetime.

I have to say that Chapter 2 in Arnold’s book titled “Play is a Child’s Work” is my favorite. It begins with a quote from Friedrich Froebel who created the concept of kindergarten: “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

Arnold goes on to say that “True education can never be forced–a child has to want to learn. This longing is often locked deep inside, and it is the teacher’s task to discover and encourage it. But teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. Many children spend more hours each day with their caregivers than with their parents. Too frequently, they come from broken homes into understaffed and underfunded classrooms. But the role of the teacher is now more important than ever, and the most vital part of the work is not academic. We need to allow children to be children for as long as possible. They need time to breathe in and breathe out. They need to play.”

I am very aware that kindergarten has changed dramatically since my last hours in the classroom. I object to the emphasis on reading and math skills, the stress under which many children live, and the new “state standards” for early childhood. We risk the possibility that children will be burned out by 3rd grade and will have missed the treasured hours of a meaningful childhood.

I would encourage you to take a look at “Their Name is Today” by Johann Christoph Arnold, and published by Plough Publishing House. Your thoughts on the subject are welcome.

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