The Wild Rumpus

For the last year, I have been meeting with a group of parents and children at the Olympia Free School. We've been calling ourselves the Free School Family Network, and we are all people who share an interest in non-coercive, multi-generational, natural learning in community. Many of us have already pulled our kids from school, some are investigating the idea of homeschooling/unschooling, and others are just interested in free, fun, educational activities with their kids. The group is supported by a few committed young adults who don't have kids, and a few whose kids are older, who help keep a lot of the stuff rolling, as us parents of littles busy ourselves with the exhausting life of parenting young children.
We have a few regularly scheduled events, but so far only two or three families show up to any given event.
Recently, I was a guest on a local radio program. This thrilled my six-year-old. She informed me that she would like to have a radio program of her own, a kid's radio show. I asked a few people I knew who have radio shows if they might like to help her do this, and mentioned it at a Free School Family Network meeting.
Before I knew it, the idea had taken flight, and we had plans to have a percussion instrument-making workshop, a music recording day with local musicians, and finally a day when the kids would seize control of a local radio station for two hours to spin their own tunes, show off their original music, and experience real radio DJing.
Yesterday, we parked and started walking towards the Free School for the music recording session. I didn't know what to expect. On the way, I wondered grown-uply things such as if original music by children was such a good idea, and whether or not the event would be a "success".
The wild rumpus could be heard from a block away.
Much to my surprise, there were probably a dozen or so youngsters, and as many adults filling the front room, armed with real, honest-to-goodness, serious instruments. Banjo, keyboard, fiddle, a variety of accoustic and electric guitars, recorders, a drum kit, and some guitarish instrument that I don't know the name of made from a cigar box. The front room was in exuberant chaos. Discovery and creation cluttered every corner, making a great noise that could give most noise bands a run for their money. It reminded me of the scene of Who Christmas morning in The Grinch Stole Christmas.
I kept thinking of the psalm, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises...Let the sea roar and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy..."
In the back room was the recording studio, where the mood was much different. Every kid in there was under ten. For more than two hours, serious work took place in that room, the likes of which is scarcely (if ever) seen in the institutions we charge with educating our young. There was a clear awareness on the part of the children that what was going on was serious work, not just the pretend stuff that children are normally permitted to do. They worked with unusual focus, negotiating who did what, even as they discovered what different "tracks" are, and how difficult it is to master an instrument, even for a simple melody.
Typical band dynamics ensued: Dreams of stardom contrasted with deep fears of performing. Egos competed. Resentments festered. Visions diverged. But in the end, 5 tracks were recorded. (It is a miracle that any record is ever recorded, any play ever performed, any film ever screened.)
When we left, my daughter's face was flushed and eyes shining like the true creator she is.
What might happen if we always allowed children to do important adult things when they asked to? To handle the precious equipment that we normally keep far out of their reach? To learn from experts on every subject that interested them, instead of shipping them off to experts on primary education? To master adult skills as they felt prepared to, instead of insisting that everything that matters to us is far beyond their capacity?
I imagine that what would happen would be, like yesterday, part wild rumpus, part joyful noise, part revolution, and it would uproot all of our notions about who children are and what they are capable of.


Blogger crenshaw sepulveda said...

I see that one of my heroes, Paulo Freire, could have taken a few lessons from you. In a world rampant with structural violence, I feel that our educational system is one of the most insidious examples of structural violence. It is not for us to teach our children, it is for us to learn from them. Maybe then we will be capable of teaching.

9:54 PM  

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