plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Posts tagged ‘wisdom’

The question of the how of speaking other languages about play

It occurs to me that even though we happen to be speaking the same language, we may in fact be speaking different languages altogether. That is to say, when speaking about play, it might not be the thing itself that’s the contentious issue: it might just be the language that we speak to describe it. After all, isn’t the play itself the same thing no matter which way up you hold it? What the difference is is the person doing the viewing. I’m aware that I’ve tended to come around to the same subject matters plenty of times in my writing, but that’s all fine if those subject matters can be seen from different angles. When we discuss play, there’s often a playing with words itself to do this: I’m thinking this post will be no different in that respect, but the slight tweak is the view of languages used.

A small moment of minor epiphany arrived recently when I realised that, in order to communicate with someone, we may have to speak more of their language. My language, in this writing on these posts, is the language of ‘this is play, for the sake of play, for the hell of it, for no developmental outcomes or other future-looking gains’, or variations of this. None of us are perfect adults, all of us are continuing the process of being and are being in our becomingness, in the here and now: there’s no reason, in my language, why children shouldn’t be viewed in the same way. We’re occupied by the same genetic material, adults and children, and many adults tend to forget that they were children once too. They’ve forgotten because they think they’re fully formed, wise, more. These are not rational assumptions to have because none of us are, or ever will be, ‘complete’. We all occupy the same streets, and we all make our way, day by day. Here ends the brief précis of this language that I’ve been speaking for a while now.

However, it seems that in order to communicate with someone, we may have to speak more of their language. How, though, do we talk the languages of education, law and order, health, funding, and so on, whilst maintaining the core of what we believe to be true? These are questions for the asking, not answers yet for the giving. When I’m communicating with children, either by words or by gestures, but more often than not by play, I’m speaking their language, their codes and culture. We can speak more than one language within the overall language of the shared words and actions that we use. The task then is how to translate that skill into passionate advocacy for play with other adults who, by and large, don’t usually come to play from the same angle.

‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language’, as attributed to Oscar Wilde (not as commonly misquoted of George Bernard Shaw), is testament to more than the words of an actual language themselves, of course, but is also relevant in this ‘adults coming to play’ discussion: what we know is that we all view it differently, and that we speak of it in different terms — what is so obvious that it hasn’t occurred too frequently though is that we do have the ability to speak others’ languages, as difficult as this may be. Or, at least, if that proves ethically tricky, we have the capability of listening.

We’re all right, of course, though. That is, we wouldn’t position ourselves so absolutely in our ethical or principled camps if we didn’t believe that what we were saying was ‘the truth’. Is it possible that there is more than one truth? Can we really be living in a more than binary world of right/wrong? When I talk of play I talk about its here-and-now-ness, and I have great concerns about the rhetoric others use in tub-thumping with equal fervour about all things only-developmental. This is a simple binary, though I know the picture is more complicated than this in reality. Could it be that children’s play offers them something for the future too, in conjunction with the just-now-ness? Yes, of course it does. Play has many benefits. Here, though, I break from the self-imposed attempt to see things in other ways, when saying: how about others seeing that same set of words in the last few lines the other way around too?

Back to the task in hand: how to see play by speaking others’ languages of it. The present UK government, and the possible next, sees children in terms of educable entities. Of this I’m convinced, judging by the rhetoric that comes directly from politicians and indirectly via media reports of their policies and statements. How can a here-and-now play person (I deliberately avoid the ‘playworker’ term here for now) speak the language of education without diluting the core belief that play is essentially made of magic? I don’t write this frivolously: if we are all made of carbon, if we are all made of star-dust, so it is that play is something ‘other’ than we might ordinarily always see. Play, from this perspective, is glitter that we can’t catch. Here we are again, back at the esoteric, the poetic, the speaking of languages not understood.

Yet, the epiphany still stands: in order to communicate with someone, we may have to speak more of their language. The question is not in the ‘what’ of the words (these we can say because we have them in common anyway, of sorts), but in the ‘how’ of them. Perhaps, as ‘developed’ as we consider our adult selves to be, as ‘fully formed’, as ‘wise’, as ‘more’, we can come round to the conclusion that we can understand more of the ‘how’ by learning from children. In my experience, children often seem fairly adaptable to the how of speaking the different languages of adults around them: sure, they can co-opt adults into their own language of play to assimilate them into the nature of their thoughts, but they can also be adept at role and character mimicry, and much more than this too. Children often seem skilful at playing the language of any given adult, which may be altruistic — if there is such a thing — but which may serve their needs all the more succinctly. Maybe it’s an evolutionary trait; maybe some of us, as fully formed as we think we are, un-develop it.

On teaching, learning, wisdom

One of the things I would do if I were going to teach a child, I would as quickly as possible get out of any model that I was going to teach this child. That is, by hanging out with this child and saying, ‘OK, now what?’ You see?

Baba Ram Dass (1970), from Doing Your Own Being.
I come back to Baba Ram Dass in my reading. I’ve been thinking this week on teaching and learning, and from several perspectives: there is my own journey of learning (and here I’m not talking about academic learning); there is my role as a teacher, of sorts, of adults; I think of my adult learners; I think of children at play and what they receive from this play.

There is a tension of adult and child in the dynamic of play-based relationships. There is a tension of humility and assertion in the dynamic of adult/adult ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ relationships. I’ve often felt these tensions and have a need to explore, to think as I write.

In his lecture at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, in May 1970, Baba Ram Dass (formerly the psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert) discusses teaching and learning. He adds, regarding his thinking on if he were to teach a child:

‘I am now under the model that the child already knows everything, and my job on myself is to thin the veils that keep me from knowing it all, and to not contribute to increasing the veils that keep him from knowing it all, right?’

This ‘work on the self’, it seems, is critical. It feeds into all aspects of the perspectives and tensions I list above: my own journey of learning (or wisdom); my skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being); the journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them; children at play, and my interactions with them too.

Ram Dass discusses how, in an ideal world, he’d like there to be a programme for ‘teachers to work on themselves.’ He says:

‘I think I would be inclined to surround children with as high a consciousness as I could find . . . I would put [these ‘teachers’] in an environment with these kids where whatever the vehicle [the moment of learning possibility] was, the teacher saw that as merely a vehicle for us to become conscious together . . . I’ll play for the long shot that they [the children] will open to the universe, which is within them.’

When I’m with children, I’m not teaching them as such: playwork isn’t about this. I have heard the argument, however, that there is a necessary dynamic of ‘informal teaching/learning’. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the flow of what the adult knows can’t help but be passed on to the child. However, I’m not necessarily the ‘highest consciousness’ at any given time. I have learnt a great deal from children, and I’m not talking about ‘knowledge’ the way the education system sees it. Ram Dass also concludes:

‘Sometimes [the highest being is] the teacher and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a kid.’

We shouldn’t read ‘highest being’ as something or someone aloof. We should read it in terms of ‘being wise’. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge.

Recently, I read a beautiful comment on another blog post. Laura Grace Weldon writes, in her blog, about the concept of educating too early, which is itself an inspiring read. However, one of the comments to that post also caught my attention:

‘What these high-minded early education experts don’t recognise (or don’t care about since all they want is to feed the education system) is that our civilisation is best served by people who have learned how to love, how to direct themselves, how to enjoy their own company in quiet, how to discover and create and imagine, how to be within the real world not some fake environment where sitting still is more important than anything their bodies and beautiful brains inspire them to do.’

This speaks to me of the acquired wisdom of children, but also of the acquired wisdom of the writer.

So what of my perspectives and tensions on teaching and learning?
My own journey of learning (or wisdom)

If I’m open, here and present, I’m able to see the way others inspire me. When I’m closed it’s because I’m ‘stuck’ in cycles of not understanding the self, of ego, of past and future thoughts. If I’m open I may see high consciousness in any other, irrespective of age. There’s a tension even here in the writing of these thoughts: these are notes for my own work on myself; these are notes that may read as directed at the reader. I write them in order to think them out. I keep the rest to myself. You find your own way.
My skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being)

In his prologue to the transcription of Ram Dass’ lecture, Ernest Scott writes that the former Dr. Alpert began to feel ‘the pretence that those who were teaching, knew’.

If we teach, or try to teach, do we really ‘know’ at all? The tension of humility and assertion is always there. How much more can I help my adult learners, by standing back and being the medium through which their own desire to find something out is played?
The journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them

If I input information directly, will it stay in there as well as if the learner who is ‘ready’ absorbs such things? Reading books is all very well (of course, the playwork literature is important), but ‘information’ is not the same as the experienced feeling of the moment in playwork. It is ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’.

How shall I guide and not pollute that journey any other is on?
Children at play, and my interactions with them too

If I’m privileged to be invited into children’s play, I feel I’m invited in because of who I am, at that time, in that moment. I’m usually not invited in as a teacher, though sometimes children have asked questions because they want information. (‘What’s that?’ Gack said to me recently, as he got in really close to a yellow and black version of the ladybird family crawling over a wooden bench). Mostly, in play interaction with children, I feel I’m in it because I’m not teaching, because I won’t teach, because the children seem to sense this. I feel this because, the moment I slip into a more widely understood adult-child dynamic (a small frustration, or a more assertive request of mine to the child), there’s often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) shift in their demeanour towards me.

If I think it to be a good idea to input some ‘knowledge’, directly, into an interaction of play, I’m often ignored. It’s because the child isn’t ready. They come to learning of their own accord. These are notes to remind myself of constantly.
Things the ‘thinking whilst writing it’ has shown me

Teaching and learning has its tensions, as does work with other adults and with children. It is my learning, my absorption of information, that tells me that play is play because it is play: it is of the moment, and the moment is all. However, much more than this, in words I can’t really write because I don’t know how to, my experience shows me that play is the feeling of now. Play is the wisdom of now. It may not be a feeling or concept I can adequately teach. It may just be a concept that has to play itself through me.

Baba Ram Dass concludes:

‘The whole history of knowledge is as a drop in the bucket compared with wisdom. We’re trying to preserve something and what we’re doing is preserving at the cost of something much, much higher than is what we really want. We would like to train for wisdom, not knowledge. And what we’re training for is knowledge, because we can measure it. But knowledge is not convertible, necessarily, into human happiness or well-being. Wisdom is, because wisdom is learning to live . . . in harmony with the world at the moment it is.’

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