I went to a friend's magic show on Thursday. He's a pretty good magician. In the middle of his performance, he told us he was getting into motivational speaking. I was a bit skeptical, but after he made his case, I realized he had great insight into the human condition that was worth sharing.
He essentially revealed that magic is about creating moments of delight, transporting someone out of time and into a moment. Most people, he claimed, want to learn magic not because they actually like the magic tricks, but because they want the reaction that magic creates. To create that moment, doesn't need magic, he argued. You just need to break people's routine.
This got me thinking. As adults, it seems like that is where delight breaks in--when routines are interrupted, when anomalies occur, when the unexpected strikes. Adults get into habits and patterns of living that can start to feel monotonous. We feel the need to alter routine with vacations, new jobs, and new experiences. The adult routines feel like something humanity bucks against.
But then I compare this with our knowledge of a child's development. Children need routine. I have both been told this repeatedly by educators I respect and have seen the need first-hand. My students freak out when a subject goes overtime or I deviate from the schedule written on the board. If a meeting runs longer than the anticipated time, and I get back to my class in an hour rather than the expected thirty minutes, the rest of day looks like the Lord of the Flies. Routines, knowing what is going to happen next, seem to provide a degree of safety. When they aren't in place, there seems to be anxiety.
There is also this--I have a series of what I believe are engaging, entertaining, and extremely productive activities that I intersperse throughout the school year. One for example includes learning how to use Google slides and then creating presentations on a variety of topics. I can do about three of these before they start to lose interest and I have to change it up somehow. So here, they seem to get tired of the routine, of knowing the steps and outcome. I have to modify the activity to include a novel element, such as turning it into a group project or changing the audience from their classmates to the sixth grade class. It seems as if routine has its limits.
I need to change desks periodically, introduce new cooperation games, new comprehension activities for our reading, and a variety of other changes to maintain engagement and excitement.
So I have these two human needs--routine and novelty. Holistically, we probably need both as humans. We need an idea of where things are going to go but also hunger for novel experiences that stimulate us, and consequentially, lead to our growth. That boredom on my student's faces that forced me to stop daily oral language four weeks in could just be a manifestation of their minds needing to discover and learn something new.
Side note: I believe that school can always be exciting. Through relevance, real problems, and instruction that has been planned in response to watching and knowing your students, education can always be exciting.
So, it seems like the answer is an amalgamation of both. It's like the paradox of education Locke identifies; that children need government (structure) but also to be prepared to govern themselves as rational and free adults in society. Is that a good example? Is the entry into self-governance what I am seeing when they get board with an activity? Maybe children transition into the freedom of adulthood on their own account. Maybe the desire for freedom is natural and drives them to obtain it. Freedom seems like something you never need to sell a kid on. So that transition to self-governance that is endemic to adults is initiated by the child, but then given in manageable increments by adults. Like the loosening of a leash, based on what the governing adult feels they are equipped to handle.
This makes me think of my family's cat, when we brought her home for the first time. She stayed under my bed for the first day without moving, then began to leave for short periods of time as she became acclimated to the sounds and smells of the new home. If there was a new noise or person, she would quickly dart back under the bed. After a few days though, her times out became longer and longer until she didn't return to the bed, wandering freely around our home at ease.
I wonder if this a good analogy for children. They need the structure of routine only so they have a safe place to rest in before their desire to grow forces them to venture outside of it. They need routine as a place to return to for reflection and safety when the learning feels too much. Maybe routine is this support structure that needs to always be present in a child's life, always being reworked to fit the growth of the child, so that child has a safe foundation for taking risks, learning, and growing.
The application for education is that teachers would need routines perpetually in place, but also the flexility for them to be broken or reworked. This would also mean the routines are flexible in the sense that teacher is always gauging whether the routines are a good fit for what the students need at that stage of development.
That feels more settled. Children need routines and opportunities to depart from them.
I wonder though, what routines exist in schools out of the need to manage large groups of children with limited adults. To say that a different way, what routines are in place to support our industrial educational model? What routines are in place not for the welfare of the child, but to help teachers maintain control?
So, can we create a safe environment for children that facilitates risk-taking without routines?