“We have the ability to respond to what is going wrong in our world.
In that sense, we have response-ability.
The question is whether we will take it up.”
- John Philip Newell ∞ Poet • Peacemaker • Friend
In the past two weeks, children have raised their voices to the UN Child Rights Committee. They are leading the way to what they deserve: a safe future and healthy world. The children’s resounding question is “What are the adults going to do to help?”* Adults must both show up, and get out of the way. It is imperative that adults build 20% high level capacity and savvy where relationship with children comes first, and quality of connection is rich with softness, clarity, accuracy, and openness. It is also necessary for adults to reserve 80% of the stage for children’s feedback, vision, and action.**
In September 2016, I wrote a piece of documentation, There Are Guns, after two weeks of observing preschool students engage in imaginary gun play. It was not apparent why the children were playing this game, but it was clear they were working something out. Instead of disrupting their process with a rule or reframing,
“We don’t play that here.”
“Our guns shoot marshmallows! Who’s hungry?”,
the priority was to connect, understand, and respond. Indeed, with a couple rounds of compassionate adult inquiry, it came clear that the creator and leader of the game had witnessed a shooting. The game was a vehicle for him to make sense of his experience. His bottom line: protect his dear ones. Moreover, he demonstrates RESPONSE-ability by sharing the game with friends for whom he cares. He is not just working out his own thoughts and feelings, but is also showing love toward his classmates. The only way for adults to enter this partnership is through authentic trust and relationship. To be in right relationship with the true heart of children, adults must first be in right relationship with the truth of their own hearts.
At the inception of this game, the creator had been alive on planet earth exactly 40 months. In 40 months, his fresh, new eyes had seen enough that his play had been consumed with telling the truth about the world around him. He wasn’t wrong for playing the gun game. When children give adults this kind of feedback - when they document our reality through imaginative thinking, symbolic language, protests, or dramas - we must pay close attention. Children’s multitude of expressive languages paired with their imaginal wisdom offer an essential insight to what is happening. It is not just their right to be fully agentic citizens who respond to their world as upstanders (vs. bystanders), the world needs their contributions. Paying close attention to these offerings from students allows us to identify precisely where our ability to RESPOND will be most effective in co-creative learning environments, and it enhances adult RESPONSE-ability through the clarity and authenticity of a child's innate response to their world.
Wonderings on behalf of young learners and teachers:
How do adult choices enhance or derail the trajectory of children’s inquiry and rights?
In what ways is our responsibility as teachers and administrators at odds with our RESPONSE-ability to our students?
How might our community / culture / world be different if education were focused on fully developing each individual’s unique ability to respond with compassion and insight to the people and events around them, instead of memorizing and reorganizing facts and figures?
October 1, 2019
John Philip Newell, Response-ability, Heartbeat Blog, October 22, 2015: https://heartbeatjourney.org/response-ability/
*Just a Kid, UNICEF, September 17, 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4udqAY2Bqc
**Jodi Wert, Partnership: 20 / 80 Model, September 12, 2019.
Jodi Wert, There Are Guns, September 20, 2016.