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Directions in children's literature Riverside radio WRVA are in New York City presents the eighth program of a second series with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and leading authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time is to use his guest as Herbert Cole teacher and author of thirty six children issued by the new American Library. Mr. Cole and Mr. Lewis are heard in the second part of a two part discussion on teaching the unteachable. This is Richard Lewis and I'm continuing my discussion with Herb Kohl the author of the very beautiful and provocative book Thirty six children. We left off on our last program about the nature of learning and the conception of learning. Schools have I wonder if you could just recapitulate very quickly on the subject will we. Just to let go you know what I guess what we're really saying is that the paradigm that the schools have for learning is a very linear paradigm that is to say they they believe that you have to learn things you learn things in direct steps and it's more than a paradigm of learning is a paradigm of
thinking. So false idea of how we think and one which has nothing to do with the way in which we ourselves face and confront problems in our lives whether they're intellectual problems or personal problems or social problems for the school. Every problem has a definite solution and solution which proceeds by step by step from certain premises to the final one right answer. And in fact we never really encountered that too often in mathematicians even facing the most complex math problems don't solve problems generally by moving the way we teach kids to solve arithmetic problems and schools. Generally there's a there's a matter of gathering as much material about the thing as possible of trying to come to as great an understanding as one can of the materials and often as a matter of reaching a dead end and somehow letting the thing settle going away from it the Mr very important thing it is is going away from something that becomes too much of too obsessive in which you find yourself thinking in circles and then somehow coming to a point where things fit together
and then you reconstruct the proof. But it's when you've seen the way through first. I know when in school just to take it down to the level of what goes on in the classroom we don't let children walk away from their desks and think. We insist that they sit at the desk and try to do things now when we want them to do it. And if they don't then they're wrong. Yes this is nothing to do with the cost of learning to write what's interesting too in our first discussion we had touched upon the idea of intuition and who would have teaching. Is that right from the start. We are negating intuition in the human being. We are not even giving intuition in the child's concept of intuition and his use of intuition. Any room for development in a sense why should we expect it later on when we don't even give it a chance to grow. When a young child and I think this whole concept you are speaking of there only being right or wrong answer is I think my term certainly one of the most damaging elements in the whole school set up as they are today.
I don't know whether I am leaping too far but I think one of the whole things is that we we fool ourselves into believing that we are or even should be called rational beings. You know as if there were some definite steps and definite ways of making rational decisions when fact most decisions are not made rationally I expect but intuitively also in terms of sensibilities and feelings and we really limit the child. But you know you get down to testing and you get down to the whole business of what it is that we mean by a talented child we mean by talented child a child can think quickly and certain very rigid logical forms. We don't mean by a talented child a child who has great sensibility or great sensitivity or great and deep intuition or insight. Just cut her off I mean so many of the children in schools with real talent don't survive in schools because we just refuse to acknowledge that talent is being a value. News we think in terms of achievement. Yeah I guess I switch and and this is what's so frustrating is that
I think we've where we're obsessed with progress that we've got to see the progress and if it isn't seen then it isn't progress. I think the greatest criminals in this respect are certainly the schools where this whole germ of progress is planted right from the start. And Charlie merely feels it and he feels obviously that has to live up to that. That evaluation of him may be one of the reasons that the kids know that they're not going anywhere because they're not going to be allowed to progress in that way and therefore they say why bother. Sure absolutely. Now I think of her in terms of the your particular book what was really moving to read was the way in which you made learning for these children something more than learning. It was I think in a sense it became an experience for you as well as for them. And what I was fascinated is the steps involved in the gradual deepening of the relationship between yourself and the children. And as we had talked about last time
the way in which you first got the children to actually respond to something which in this case was the Patterson the chart of the Patterson fight and then leading from there to their discovery of language would you just tell us how that discovery came of God no one ever really knows how something like that comes about. But but what happened is really from the Patterson listening thing that moved to really have a concern with the life that the kids all knew the life around them. Well they're blocking their own experiences and the ability to talk honestly about one's own life and the ability to talk honestly because the person who is so in the position of a teacher is listening and responding to what the kids say and not judging it responding as any human being would respond. I mean you know teachers sometimes I always feel I have to comment. Yes. And sometimes when kids say certain things which are very moving important for them the only way you can respect that is by being quiet by not
having to respond not having to say something and in a sense. Learning to do this the kids would say well you interest in some things that we know and they would bring things in from their home and things which had to do with the language with culture with the whole world which was foreign to me. And of course I was learning how to participate in their world and in exchange I brought in things that excited me. And so that hoping that if they were interested they would participate in my world cause the world to join us in a sense his language I mean we both not only spoke language but were involved in creating languages. The example I remember in the book is the whole idea of this word bad where kids use the word bad to mean someone who defied white authority and therefore someone who is good someone who is marble and they say he's a bad kid or that's a bad song and I really didn't understand it it was learning from the kids what they meant by the word and then they knew it in a sense
led me to see that. And to know that was very important for all of us to understand how language is an organic part of life and it grows out of life you know with it did it develop side of life. Through that I decided that I had to learn more about language and you know be an elementary school teacher is a scholarly thing and people don't believe that because if if we're learning about language the teacher himself has to know about language if you're going to teach history to kids. You have to know history you can't play that's you can't depend on that textbook. You yourself have to go on some kind of adventure. The way we got beyond language is understanding and seeing some of the mythical origins of very concepts and words that we have how are things like disaster as one of one of my favorite discoveries meaning against this against asked of the stars and disaster is what is against the stars there are many many other things but it's not so much the other things that one can put experiences together and create a world out of it which can then become a concept which someone can play
with. The kids themselves when they saw that would be able to play with words of their own. JACKSON The favorite games and the kids could play with jacks as a word representing you know a simple game in such a way of talking about jackal file and jack off and Jack o maniac. And and this kind of play made that you know something first it was a discovery to me. And the kind of play was it was. You know that's how you learn my language is all about by participating and in playing with it living with it. Same thing with mythology. You know it really isn't enough to know five myths and to tell five mythical stories every year day in day out to the kids you've got to learn about mythology that when you say that the teacher in a sense has to be a scholar what came out so convincingly in the book is that that you as a human being were reaching into areas like anthropology sociology entomology you were actually going to these areas
drawing from it the the juices so to speak of the knowledge that has been gained by scholars in these areas and relating it to the whole situation of these children and in turn letting them relate it to their own. Again getting back to this wordplay. Yeah there's that and there's this this thing which I think is the most important thing about what you called Intuitive teaching is that if you're going to really follow the direction in which the kids are moving or the many directions in which they're moving you've got to have as many alternatives as possible you've got to know as much as you possibly can about the subject so that these things can become relevant in that you have them at your command so you can't run to a textbook which is going to tell you how to perform how to act in a given situation. You've got to just build up your own resources develop as many as many things as you possibly can and will as you say again in the book watch the children and watch the children listen to them listen to them in terms of saying letting them tell you even if through a slight action or a slight thought on their part what they want to live I tell you something even
even more interesting. You want to hear things look at the kids graffiti look at what they're writing in secret against you I mean I don't mean to intrude upon it but you know look at what's around you. Look look at the real world that the kids live in in school as opposed to some idealized world of what teachers would like to think that kids do in school. Another thing I guess I guess is remember your own school. I just remembered myself in school and I remember all the things I didn't or things I hated. And somehow it made me humble as a teacher because I realized there I was doing things that as a kid used to turn me off completely. Well as you say in the book you say we started out talking about words and ended up with was life itself which I think is is I truly want to know what education is all about. Basically you know that if we can if we can make that thing called language the vehicle with which we then speak about life speak about life in the fullest sense of the term where we're getting at the basis of
language as well. And you know the whole fact of communication between one human being and the next and you know in that sense what what what this is all about is what we need therefore is not to mechanize a classroom and not to make things simpler and not to put things in better order like in terms of program. We need to bring some of the complexity of life into the classroom and we need to make it more human not less you and me as Brother brother. Absolutely. I think one of the things I've always felt is that a group of children come to any classroom and as you pointed out earlier that this is this whole way of talking about children really covers all children anywhere. A child comes into the classroom and what has happened to him before he got into the classroom with the teacher. The adult never quite really know except in things he may remark to us to unravel the complexity of that experience. No computer can ever do no programming will ever do. But the human being in the presence of those children will somehow begin to do it.
I tell you what you know that gets down to some of the things I found myself doing which I initially were very scared to do that I remember the last year that it for you that I taught after I taught the 36 children it is the next year. Remember going in and taking a record because of all the kids and just throwing them away. I mean I couldn't throw away cause the system doesn't like that much. I mean just rocking them away in the closet. Well I was I guess the only time I didn't lock them away in the closet was when I took them out show them to the kids you know horror of horror I showed the kids what we were saying about them in our records and how we were categorizing them the kids were horrified because they couldn't recognize themselves in the in the private personal individual record cards. But what this is for really is to discover the kids as people in the classroom to not to know who the troublemakers are as a very important thing to give a child a chance to be someone else in the classroom then then he may have been trapped into being before. It's amazing how. The classroom generates its own types
and the kids begin to have a school career and a school character you know there are pets and there are bullies and there are few in the class and always have to be joking and you know and I think kids are trapped into this often by the entire nature of the situation. For example I throw out the fact that an authoritarian teacher needs a child who's a bad starting teacher probably can't function without a child who defies. It's a fascinating point and they almost look for that child. That's right and what I'm saying is that I what I could tell using that word that we've been using so much is that unconsciously that they make bad to us. Exam You know I heard after the children have discovered what language is what happened in your in your particular school it's the results with the kids beginning to take it in the most unusual way use all of the things that they've begun to discover in terms of their own it's not that everyone wrote in one way but the kids almost all of them began writing in their own individual ways ways which they found most. He is most congenial to
their own personalities their own selves for example one of the most striking was a boy who was very struck by the word pathless which we talked about in one of our etymological flings you know and made path us into a character. Pavel's was named battles because he was a boy of great feeling and then kind of created the adventures of path as a Greek warrior who lived in Roman times and who was a Christian and whose mother was a barbarian. I don't know how it went but he mixed together all the different worlds that we'd been talking about that he'd been discovering on his own and he created a myth. And that's just exactly what happened was that the kids created their own myths and their own stories out of their own lives but not really out of their own lives but out of all the other things that they've been you know discovering. Yes I think they use the elements that they discovered to create new things in terms of the developments of the children as individuals. Could you see anything happening there. Or was this something that wasn't to be even noticed in other
words. The reason I'm asking this is because often what I found in terms of teaching is that something was happening to the children after they had discovered the uniqueness of their own voice as human being something was happening to them. I guess that during this year I was discovering so much about myself that I didn't have you know that I knew things were changing but I never thought to say it or talk about it. I know we were we were very close I knew that I was always writing you know I was doing the same kind of thing the kids were doing and much more freely and and I think better than I'd ever done in my life. I think the thing about the kids was that they were afraid. I mean they they just stopped being afraid in school. They were able to talk about things with each other back. They really began to talk to each other I think this is when once you discover yourself if you want to discover other people and one of the most valuable things in the classroom was not what passed between me and the children but between the children and each other for an adult. Sometimes it's hard to step out of the way and let the children talk to each other.
But it's invaluable. Absolutely and I think. When we don't allow that in the question we destroy something very important. Yes there is one element in the book which I think any of us who have worked in this area have felt and keep feeling over and over again and it came out with one particular statement by by one of the children because later on if you had met that Mr. Cole one year isn't enough. I wondered if you could just sort of say something in this connection in terms of what does all of this in terms of involvement as far as your concern how do we change how do we change rituals how do we change a system how can we get what seems to be. An enormous percentage of the schools in this world not just this country but the schools in this world out of the rot in the thinking that they are doing at the present time in regards to children. Is it possible.
Where do we begin. If I get a heads up but I can I can go in let me start just with the kids again and then move on to the more general thing is one of the most devastating things I learned was that by getting the kids to be open and honest in the classroom to function freely and easily they had a miserable time in the next year because their other teachers weren't interested in their being honest and they were beaten down and they became angry and so on again. I think they gained something that they never lost they still speak to the kids and I think they understand that at least something is possible and you know maybe maybe they'll be different parents for it or if they become teachers different teachers on the other hand it doesn't save them I mean they've got many more years of the system and can be and most likely in many of the cases of the kids they have been at least destroyed in school I don't say destroyed because fortunate kids are tougher than that. How can we change. Well I personally went to the parent of the kids in my.
School I haven't written about this but I went to the princess and something's got to be done about what's going on in here and I mean the kids are being killed. I mean I realize I learned it and went and tried to organize parents and sought official info NE and of course it didn't work it can't work can't come from outside organized people to do things that's as just a whole lot to what real anger and rage is. I'm personally very hopeful that that people now are getting angry enough in in black communities and in other communities to go in and see what's happening to their children and to demand that something's wrong. That may be hopeful. You know I don't know exactly how. On the other hand there are number of things. There are number of young people who are now no longer interested in making it in their you know big bad world of business and or who have been through the Peace Corps who well one of the most hopeful things I heard yesterday was a New York City there are 50 high school chapters of
STDs. I mean these high school kids are not about to go into the kinds of things that their parents have gone into. If they're lawyers I expect they may become different types of lawyers and doctors may become different types of doctors I have friends who've been through medical school who are now going into public health thing that have not heard of a generation ago. I guess what I'm saying is that one has to now hopefully induce people to become teachers to take seriously the role of teaching young children in the elementary and secondary school to make it viable and possible for them to function and let them understand that to be a teacher is a very serious profession and one which requires a great deal of skill and knowledge and that that grows in the profession as an ending. One of funny things about classical teaching is that you teach the same thing every year. And so of course it's boring. Every year you go through the same crap and you read the same books and all but that's not the way it is ascent the way it can be. Every year is totally different I think I've ever taught the same thing twice in fact even every time I've tried
something else has come out of it you know. And I think there's hope in that. Is this exactly what you're going to be doing when you teach art in California yesterday. Could you just describe a little bit of what you hope will come about I hope. I've been working at Berkeley University of California Berkeley and I hope to be working with a group of young undergraduates and I hope to convince them that they should go into the Peace Corps and they shouldn't go into the ghetto and do tutorial things that they shouldn't work their guilt out. You know and then kind of find themselves lost at the end of the thing looking for something real to do. I think that they should make serious decisions in their lives about a car a more permanent and full commitment commitment to teaching of children if we're going to save ourselves that's the way we're going to save it not by being helpers you know the kind of thing we were talking about before. Yes. And I'm really going to try to do it by actually getting them to see what can happen starting from their own selves and moving into different aspects of what I do what I hope to do
by the way is teach this class of Berkeley in the exact same way I taught my sixth grade class at home don't spend don't intend to do anything different. Yes. And I think if we if I can sort of. And my own personal hope to this is that they as human beings would begin to start to believe in the intuitive quality of themselves. And that and that they would begin to to be able to get out of those things we were trapped into unknown. In college one of the things I spent a good part of my college career on learning all of the things that I was supposedly learning in elementary school in secondary school on learning how to be a friend and I was afraid to write and I'm sure how many people in freshman English you know face a paper and totally incompetent because we were afraid because we've learned to be judge we learned not to say what we really feel. Do you think that the schools are ready for the sort of person. It's a very strange thing that you know there's been a lot of people over throughout the
country who seem to be getting fired for doing this kind of thing. On the other hand for everyone that gets fired I know a lot of people coming in approaching them and none of those people are being blackballed I had an extraordinary experience which I can't give an answer yes or no you know. But in Prince George's County Maryland I was invited to go down there and to speak to the teachers and I spoke a very angry kind of. Think about what teaching is a profession isn't much to my surprise I was invited to go back and I'm going to go back but to work with a group of at a school and half the teachers in their school to have them change their styles change their mode of teaching change the whole authoritarian thing going on now these teachers range from very young to some very old teachers. And the main thing is that they just felt themselves if something isn't working. I think the only hopeful thing in education is that is the degree to which now everyone seems to be saying we're failing. And once you've admitted that you're failing
anyone who seems to present something that may make a difference is at least willing to be tested whether that means that we're going to change a hundred thousand elementary school teachers and 45000 high school teachers that I don't know. I think you know way though I'm not so sure we can change the present. The present authorities or the present teachers that much I think that somehow I think we've got to look for those people hidden away in positions of authority who really are sympathetic but who felt themselves trapped by their own roles and kind of convince them to take a chance put them on the spot. So my own belief is that the big change is going to come from the students that you're going to be coming in contact with. In other words it's from the oh yeah but we've got to find replaces for them. Yes. Don't want these you know say 25 young people coming out of Berkeley ready to teach ready to try something. Not saying good teachers because that only comes from being in the classroom a long time but ready to really try something. We don't want them coming out and not
getting jobs. Yes. And we also don't want them to come out and it's very difficult I think even for the best of the kids coming out. I never been in a classroom before. Things may seem like they're not working and they may get have I'm sure they'll have great despair and great pain. You want someone who say it's OK. Yes I'm afraid we'll have to stop here because I say our time is slowly coming to an end. We are going to be doing a third program as is for the interest of our listeners that will be readings from 36 children of the various things that the children's children wrote. And as a sort of way of ending as a way also as a way of introducing the next program. I would like to read one. Piece of writing that was done by Alvin who was one of the thirty six children in her Kohl's class. It speaks a lot for I think in a way what we were speaking about. And it also condemns and I think part of it is looking forward and part of us looking back and I think that's
the you know the key to all of this is called The condemned the building. There is a leaky faucet going with a steady drip of water. There is no reaction whatsoever where a person can spend his leisure time. But there is something to look at the walls which have plaster peeling which except suggest different moods that a person may be in. The walls are so arranged that they suggest different scenes like maybe a scene of you gradually graduating from boyhood to man. When the Mirage is passed you notice that the windows are you an easily pitch black suggesting if you maybe a private hell where you can satisfy your own desires then your eyes slowly move to the ceiling which suggests a mirage of heaven where you may have a chance to find out the real meaning of life. The windows in the ceiling have a certain contrast between each other which seems to worry you into making a hasty decision which swiftly moves you to the door with which you step out into the outside where you ask yourself why is
this building condemned. Where person can find his inner self. Why do they condemn this building where man can find out where he is or will be. Why do they condemn life. You have been listening to Richard Lewis and Herbert Coe teacher and author of thirty six children published by The New American Library discussing teaching the unteachable the second section in a two part discussion. Mr. there is the author of five volumes of poetry for children most recently miracles a collection of poetry by children. The wind and the rain with photographs by Helen but field both issued by Simon and Schuster also out of the earth. I sing the poetry of primitive peoples published by Norton for a free summary of this program writer WRVA Art Department B New York New York 1 0 0 2 7. Please enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. This is been directions in children's literature the eighth in a series of 12 programs with Richard
Lewis and they did authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time next week readings from Mr. Cole's thirty six children with Richard Lewis and two of the children Evan Curry and Robert Jackson directions in children's literature is produced by Richard Harris and Cyril Peters for WRVA are the FM station of the Riverside Church in New York City. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Directions in children's literature
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Chicago: “Directions in children's literature; 8,” 1969-01-31, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
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APA: Directions in children's literature; 8. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from