Lisa, Sociology Graduate Student, CA
Lisa is a Graduate Student in Sociology in California. She was interviewed by her friend, Tamar, who is a Professor of Management in UT and a Catalyst for RE-ENVISIONED.
Tell me about a child you care about. What makes them unique?
I always like children who are hard to crack open—like the introverts and the ones who are slow to warm. It’s actually exciting when they let you in, unlike an extrovert or a quick to warm child, who will let anyone in, so it’s not as special.
So one in particular that I was thinking of—I was on a new team at the preschool I teach at over the summer, so I was just on the team for six weeks, because they had someone leave, and I was leaving, so I was a good person to fill the spot. By the end of my six weeks, I got to mesh with her. She’s one of the kids who don’t say hi in the morning; the teachers describe her as “choosing not to have fun here,” in that she’s kind of stubborn and has a very clear sense of what she does and does not like, and she’s not that interested in just hanging out with teachers—she wants to do her own thing. And by the end, she made me a little drawing—I did “Down By The Bay” and had children draw what they saw down by the bay, and she made me a pear sitting in a chair, and she was like “This is for your song. You can keep it.” And I was like “Oh thanks! Thanks Ruby!”
And similarly, she has a very strong sense of self. So I was watching her connect with another child, which was super exciting because she hadn’t really made a friendship thus far. And then I went to go get a camera, without telling her what I was doing, because I was so engrossed in what they were doing. And then she followed me inside and was like, “Where did you go?” Like, “What? Why did you leave?” in this way that was so cute. And I was like “Oh, I was just trying to get a camera!”
I even ended up meeting her grandmother—total weird coincidence. I was at her grandmother’s house. Crazy, right? The same week that she connected with me. I ended up at her grandmother’s house, through my old boss for Rainbow—the child’s grandmother is my old boss’ mentor. So I was with my old boss and she said “Oh my God, you can meet my mentor, let’s go to her house!” And the grandmother was like “Oh, you teach at [preschool]? My granddaughter’s there!” and I asked her name, and then I was like “I have her in my class!” And I told the little girl the next day, because I was seeing her—I said, “I met your grandmother yesterday!” Actually, her grandmother had said, “She only calls me Nana, so if you talk about her ‘grandmother,’ she’s not going to know it’s me.” So I said “I met your Nana last night!” and she was like “Why wasn’t I there?!”—and I was like, “Great question.” And she’s four! She might even be three still. She was like “On the phone?!” and I was like, “No, in person!” and she said, “Where was I?!”
So I like her directness and her honesty, and I like how she’s not an easy nut to crack, but I got in there. She’s the best.
Oh, and one time she got grabbed by one of the teachers, which is not the [preschool] way at all! It’s really not something they would normally do. So this girl—she wasn’t even three yet—she said, “This is unacceptable. Let go of me.” And I was like… this kid is amazing. She is going to do awesome! Like at 2 years 9 months, to be like, "Unhand me! You are the head teacher, and I’m going to let you know that you have crossed the line". And they had! She knew that it didn’t work for her, and she was like, “Absolutely not.” So she’s my hero!
Now, imagine that child is now in her 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for her about her life? What would make it a ‘good’ or ‘successful’ life?
I think there are a lot of things that go into a good life. Feeling comfortable in your own skin, and confident, which obviously she is already, so I hope that doesn’t get beaten out of her. Sometimes adults care more about children being obedient than they do about them being independent—even though in this country we claim to be for self-starters and independents, I don’t think that is shown, a lot of times, in our school system, so I would love for her to still have that. But not in a defensive way, because the world has tried to take it out of her, but more in a self-assured way—like “Yeah, this is the way I am, this is who I always have been, and that’s pretty awesome.”
I’d want her to feel connected to others. I think sometimes when you have that [self-assurance], not everybody else does, so not everybody knows what to do with that tactic, and can view it negatively when it’s such a positive. So I’d love for her to have connections. And a sense of work or purpose that resonates with her.
Do you think that school will help her achieve this ideal life? Why or why not?
I’m not sure. I don’t think school is always structured in a way that is truly best for children, and for the specific children in a given classroom. Like I think that what we’re currently asking five-year-olds to do in kindergarten is ridiculously not age-appropriate, for example in terms of how much we’re asking them to sit down. How long they need to be at school, the fact that they need to go in knowing their ABCs—which pre-kindergarten was supposed to be the start of school, so you wouldn’t need to know anything to do it, right? But the academic content of each grade is being pushed down so much every year, because the other grades are being asked to do so much more, that you’re going to be behind. And the fact that you can be behind in kindergarten is crazy to me.
I think similarly, we have primarily white teachers in this country, and female teachers in this country. So anything that is not that, is… like “Oh, boys, they move so much, they must have ADHD!” But people, in general, need to move their bodies, more than they’re allowed to in school.
Do you think people agree with you about all of this?
I think it’s the kind of thing that, in theory, people agree with, but in practice it would be hard to measure—and anything that’s difficult to measure, people are not inclined to do. Because how would we know whether or not it’s working?
And I also think, even if people agree with it… sometimes education theorists, or practitioners, like teachers, even if they were trained a certain way, like for play-based [methods], what you’ll see them do is so odd. Because it’s not what they were trained, but it’s how they themselves were taught. So sometimes you just remember what you were doing in third grade, and you’re like, “We need some more worksheets!”
Education specifically is something that’s similar to parenting, where everyone thinks that, because they went to school, or because they had a parent, they are somehow experts. So it’s like “Oh, it went fine for me, that’s proof enough that it works.” It’s an odd thing where everyone feels like they are an expert in something, but… I would love to see some evidence. People spout a lot of opinions as fact, without a lot to back it up with. And so many people are so different, that you can find anecdotal evidence for anything. Something is going to work for some child.
That’s so true. And it’s so interesting what you said about how, even if you have explicit training in a different kind of technique, you still fall back on whatever you remember.
Exactly. It just comes to mind so easily, right? And our childhoods are so fundamental to our learning, and our memory, and so many things. So it’s what you go back to, it’s what you know, it’s what you feel the most comfortable with—it’s what you kind of think is correct, even if you’ve studied it. Like, for how much I know that standardized testing is a waste of everyone’s time and energy, I’m still like, “But how will we know who should get into Harvard?” But I think it’s stupid, but I’m also like, Harvard is not going to do away with it…! So there’s some weird bucking-the-framework that I feel, but there’s also some, “Well we’re going to have to have some framework, though.” And this is the one we have, so we might have to just play the game within the framework. I don’t know! I feel this weird conflict.
That point, specifically, about how it’s not what they were taught, but how they were taught, came up in conversation with the director of one of the preschools on campus. She was complaining about her teachers, basically. I worked in WorkLife [at Stanford], so I was hearing her basically share what she was struggling with. And one thing she was struggling with was like, “My teachers are doing these things that I know they were trained not to do, because we’ve all had training in early childhood education!” And I was like, “Well, yes, and that’s how we were all taught in school! So it’s very hard to unlearn that.”
I just think, when you can’t come up with any ideas—coming up with curriculum ideas is hard! And it’s so hard to think outside of yourself, right? Like you know what you’re interested in and what you’re good at, so you’re going to steer it in that direction, whether or not you mean to. And I think for some people—they love a good worksheet! Not necessarily going to inspire the most creativity in children, or the most engagement. Or certainly not all of them.
What have been some of your most empowering educational experiences? This doesn’t have to be in school – it could be outside of school or after you finished.
I’m so socially motivated, so I always really liked when I got to connect with my peers on things. I went to a liberal arts college, and one of the things that I liked the best was getting to speak at length about what we’d read, and hearing people’s ideas—like really smart ideas that my brain never would have come up with. And then also telling people, “Really? You thought it said that? It did not.” In open exchange of ideas, I would get to see other people learn, and I also would learn so much from them. Those situations, for me, were the most exciting.
Ones where I just had learn all the information—I could do it, that’s fine, and I liked it in the sense that it’s nice to learn things about things, but it wasn’t necessarily that engaging. It was what I needed to do, so I did it.
But the things that I liked the best were, like my religion classes, where people started saying the most ridiculous things—like “How could you have morals if you were raised by atheist parents?” That is such a rich discussion that you can have in a structured environment, that I don’t think you can have in your daily life. Because it’s hard to get people to a level of trust—and also to have a moderator. We had a professor there who was in charge of making sure it stayed relevant, and appropriate, and not offensive! And we had a group of peers. I often had to be the defense of raising your children in a godless society, and I got to hear other people chime in.
That’s not something that I feel like I have in my daily life right now. With my friends, I sometimes have these discussions, but I often know where they stand on this already, or I don’t want to make it awkward by being like “Ooh…you’re wrong…I need to tell you that your religion is meaningless.” Or whatever it is! Or, it’s not necessarily that interesting to debate that with someone that you already know where they’re going to go with it; it’s so fascinating for people that you don’t know that well! To be like, “Whoa, that’s where you stand on that? Fascinating! I would like to hear more. How did you get to this? What is that based on?”
So in those classes, for me—both, I had so many thoughts about them, and the whole time it was happening I was like “What? This is crazy!”
That makes me so excited for you about grad school!
Oh my God, stop. I’m both so nervous and really pumped. And I’m reading so many things on the Internet. This political season is rife with content for a gender studies PhD!
And similarly, having been in a place where people weren’t that “woke,” to use a term, about race—I’m so excited for people not to say dumb stuff about race, and instead just say, “Yeah, did you know that that is called this? And this is how it happens?” I’m going to be like, “Oh my God, this is so much better than just idiots saying ‘All Lives Matter!’ My brain is so much more stimulated!”
And I have dreams that I’m going to be Malala’s TA—that I’m going to teach her about gender. Because you know, she has a lot to learn from me. Wouldn’t that be the coolest?! Is she going to take some sociology of gender course? She is! She totally is. And I’m going to be like “You have a Nobel Prize!”
I’m just so excited. It should be good as long as I don’t have a panic attack. But I survived the GRE, so… that is a lot more hit or miss. This I think I can just work on.