Reflections on Retirement: "Nostalgia for the Future"
by Patti Loftus
"gestures and dialogues of peace are still possible"
As friends and colleagues gear up for a new school year, the shape of which, because of Covid, is still being determined, I am happily unhinged from the contingency planning and restructuring. Since the end of May, when my final eight weeks of distant teaching ended and my retirement commenced, my brainspace has been entirely taken up with how to live in response to the death of George Floyd (and many others) and the seismic opportunity for awareness and change that seems to have emerged.
Although the following piece by Loris Malaguzzi to parents and children in Reggio Emilia is over 25 years old, it’s remarkably relevant this summer of 2020.
"To the parents and children of the infant-toddler centres and preschools.
It has been a difficult summer for the world, for Europe, for Italy. Because of wars, sometimes invisible and often "forgotten", because of terrorist attacks, because of earthquakes – "attacks" by nature of enormous proportions – tragedies added to tragedies. In our Countries we are witnessing a human exodus. The rights of many are betrayed... starting with children... starting with the right to life and to safety.
Those who work and live with children have a duty to renew hope in their daily action: a message of trust we must embed within us, educators and parents, in order for changes to be generated. In fact, we would like to hope, believe and communicate to the children that gestures of dialogue and peace are still possible, always possible, and that these are the foundation of human relations.
Education to respect for a life and ideas different from one's own, the determination and capacity to dialogue with differences, compassion, and solidarity, are the conditions for a stable peace, capable of halting appalling "holocausts" and giving voice to human reason again.
At the start of this new school year, what we ask of each one of us, we who are parents, educators and citizens in educational institutions, is a daily commitment to reaffirming the right of every person and every society to life and to a future, to education, to safety, to beauty, to play and to relations; continuing "to give a human and civilized meaning to existence... to feel nostalgia for the future, and for humankind".
(Loris Malaguzzi). Infant-Toddler Centres and Preschool of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia - Reggio Children - Reggio Children Foundation" found at Sightines-Initiative.com – “Change is Everyday”
We in the U.S. are in similarly troubled times this summer with the losses and uncertainties that Covid-19 has brought and we are in a time of social earthquakes with renewed calls that “Black Lives Matter,” that racism be named and rooted out. Will this moment of heightened awareness move a critical mass of us to new ways of living so that next generations will no longer replay the same injustices that are still deeply established?
I believe that educators and parents have the potential of leading the way. Malaguzzi wrote that “gestures of peace and dialogue are still possible” and calls them the “foundation of human relations.” He named educators and parents as having a duty to “renew hope.”
So what are “gestures of peace and dialogue?”
Here is one example.... In our Pre-K classroom, we engaged 4 and 5-year olds in conversations about fairness, skin color, who makes the rules and the big idea that “everyone counts.” I am convinced that if we begin when children are young, we can teach them to “dialogue with differences.” In the book, Nurture Shock, in the chapter titled, “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race,” deeply held but false assumptions about young children are described – that children are color blind and that it’s better not to talk about race but, instead, simply expose children to diverse environments. Both of these have been found to be myths.
“The same way we remind our daughters, ‘Mommies can be doctors just like daddies,’ we ought to be telling all children that doctors can be any skin color. It’s not complicated what to say, it’s only a matter of how often we reinforce it...Explicitness works.”
Pre-K teachers at Blake let parents know in advance that, as part of our social studies curriculum, we would be talking with the children about differences and similarities, fairness, inclusion (“welcome” in Pre-K terms) and that no one is inherently better or worse than another because of their skin color. Each year the teachers drew from a lengthy list of book titles and selected those that best led to conversations. We believed it was as important for the white children to engage in conversations about skin color, fairness and civil rights as it was for the children of color. Each year’s work varied and unfolded in ways unique to that particular group and in dialogue with the parents. We shared conversations with the parents in our daily journals, encouraged them to look at the books we read to their children and provided additional titles for parents, particularly those who identified as white, to expand and deepen their knowledge about identity development and U.S. history.
Malaguzzi’s hope (and mine) for children’s “right to life and to safety” and the “capacity to dialogue with differences” will require of teachers (and parents) the determination to be and remain open and curious, to learn more about the difficult racial history of the U.S. (that we adults did not learn in school,) to introduce books, experiences and conversations into classrooms and homes so that children can grow up to be comfortable talking about differences, race, fairness and inclusion. Malaguzzi described a “nostalgia for the future,” a yearning for a world better than today’s, which holds the possibility of “reaffirming the right of every person and every society to life and to a future, to education, to safety, to beauty, to play and to relations.” With a renewed focus on justice and change building in our country, I feel hopeful that a better world is indeed possible for all, if teachers, parents, and children make a priority of having these vital conversations together.
Books for Children, including books about “change makers”
One by Kathryn Otoshi
We Are All Alike We Are All Different by Cheltenham Elementary School
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
All The Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger
Skin Again by bell hooks and Chris Raschka
Whoosh by Chris Barton
Mae Among The Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden Wilma
Unlimited by Kathleen Krull and David Diaz
Queen of the Track by Heather Lang
Dolores Huerta by Sarah Warren
A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant
Wonder Horse by Emily Arnold McCully
My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris
Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds and Floyd Cooper
Fly Bessie Fly by Lynn Joseph and Yvonne Buchanan
Ruby Bridges by Ruby Bridges and Grace Maccarone
In The Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tadgell
Resources for Adults
Waking Up White Debby Irving
White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo
Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Note: May, 2020 marked the end of Patti's 36-year career in early childhood education - 28 years as a Pre-K teacher at Blake School in the Twin Cities area and eight as a Montessori and ECFE teacher. Patti’s status is “retired” but she is available (at no charge) to share resources and ideas with anyone firstname.lastname@example.org