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Julia Steiny: It Takes Guts to Depict a Happy, Healthy Childhood

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

 

Medieval storytellers and play-masters always faced the huge problem that Evil was so much more fun to portray than Good. Devils often made their entrance from the back of the audience, delivering sin's pinches to real bodies as they made their way to the stage. The characters World, Gluttony and Lechery could flaunt their drunken or sacrilegious naughtiness, even as they were doomed to the fires of hell. Virtue, Kindness, and Modesty? Dull, dull and dull. Tough work competing for attention.

But compete they did, because they had to. Affirming visions of Good was the point of the stories, after all. Facing adversity with triumph, in comedy, or noble defeat in tragedy, upheld an ideal of what it looked like when the community had it right. However hard to achieve, good character was the basis of a good society, and so it had to drive a good story. Performers had a moral obligation to imagine heaven on earth, because ultimately that was more satisfying to the audiences than cynicism.

These days, Hollywood has lost interest in ordinary, Leave-it-to-Beaver stories about healthy kids and families. On the news we see children involved in violence, shootings, bullies, and toys that maim. Frightened parents wrap their kids in bubble wrap, shielding them from life's greatest lesson: falling down, going boom, and making sense of what happened. Actually, if we'd only let kids explore, watching them manage risk -- climb a tree, build with tools -- can be heart-stoppingly exciting.

So I was delighted to see that the Alliance for Childhood had dug out an old 1957 film that shows just such a bit of a heaven on earth for children. It looks like a newsreel of the sort that used to play before the feature film. In it "The National Playing Fields Association" promotes "Adventure Playgrounds," described as having "originated in postwar Europe, after a playground designer found that children had more fun with the trash and rubble left behind by bombings -- inventing their own toys and playing with them -- than on the conventional equipment of swings and slides."

Today adventure playgrounds are all over Europe and Japan. Many call them "junkyard playgrounds" because they're full of cast-off wood scraps, wire spools, paints, old pool slides, whatever.

As a 1950s vision of heaven, the children are spotless, even as they dig deeply in the dirt, dive into holes and dam streams. Boys build while the girls cook, wearing dresses. A gorgeously-voiced BBC radio announcer enthuses his way through a delightfully prosy script. The camera lingers on kids having a blast learning that "Work is fun and service is satisfaction." The aesthetic is cornball, but every one of his words is just as relevant to today's children, if not more so.

The narrator focuses on two conditions essential not only to having fun, but to building character. Again, modern children hear a lot about bad behavior, with few if any images of attractive behavior other than getting good grades and excelling in organized sports.

The first condition is that children need to create worlds that belong just to them. Everything in these playgrounds is created by the children's hands. "Nails and junk bring happiness," and as the village of little structures develops, "so does character." Children choose what to build and do. They begin or stop as they wish, and if they want to pull off to the side to be alone, that's okay too. This isn't school or home; it's their world, and no one else's.

Douglas Rushkoff makes the point that kids are never the drivers when playing video games or other electronics. They're passengers in someone else's software vehicle. Likewise, organized sports are managed by adults. But having a world of your own is critical to developing a sense of who you are. Developing that world with others teaches you who you are in relation to them.

The second essential condition is the "Playworker," whom we don't see in the film. Today European colleges offer 2-year degrees that certify playworkers to work for municipalities in parks, public playgrounds and the streets themselves. The narrator notes, "Conspicuous by his or her absence, the leader guides, but never organizes; watches over them, but never interferes; is always there, but never in the way." The kids aren't abandoned to create their own world; there's attention, recourse to help and a potential relationship with a functioning adult. Talk about an image of Good! Imagine if U.S. municipalities cared enough about their kids to invest in people to watch over them out in the field. Kids desperately need to feel safe in their own worlds, but neglect makes the streets dangerous.

As it is, we ignore children's innate urges to build, dam, make things, climb, invent, interact, and make choices about their own lives. Better to give kids a bit of land, some junk and to have someone standing watchfully to one side as they do so. The last line of the movie is: "And your reward is just this: the sound of children's laughter. No music was ever sweeter."

Good image.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. http://infoworks.ride.ri.gov/.For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at http://[email protected] or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.  

 

Related Slideshow: Central MA School Districts with the Highest Teacher Evaluations

During the 2012-2013 school year, Race to the Top (RTTT) districts in Massachusetts were required to implement the new Educator Evaluation framework with at least 50 percent of their educators district-wide. Of Central Massachusetts’s 52 school districts, 26 implemented the Educator Evaluation structure. These 26 school districts are listed below ranked from the lowest teacher evaluation score to the highest. Keep reading to see where your district’s teachers rank, as well as to view the state and regional averages.

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State Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 7.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 85.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 37,940

Total number of educators evaluated: 61,441

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Central MA Average

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 5.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.04%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 8,843

Total number of educators evaluated: 5,987

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#26 Quaboag

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 75.0%

Percentage that need improvement: 18.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 131

Total number of educators evaluated: 80

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#25 Oxford

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 73.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 17.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 168

Total number of educators evaluated: 46

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#24 Uxbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 84.2

Percentage that need improvement: 15.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 19

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#23 Fitchburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 8.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 77.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 13.3%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.9%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 456

Total number of educators evaluated: 233

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#22 Westborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 1.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 335

Total number of educators evaluated: 67

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#21 Lunenburg

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.4%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,209

Total number of educators evaluated: 495

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#20 North Brookfield

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 86.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 10.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 59

Total number of educators evaluated: 37

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#19 Millbury

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 6.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 2.2%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 158

Total number of educators evaluated: 91

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#18 Blacktone-Millville

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 81.9%

Percentage that need improvement: 7.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 162

Total number of educators evaluated: 94

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#17 Southbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.7%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 212

Total number of educators evaluated: 152

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#16 Worcester

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.2%

Percentage with proficient scores: 87.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.4%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 1,859

Total number of educators evaluated: 1,825

Prev Next

#15 Webster

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 10.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 83.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 159

Total number of educators evaluated: 101

Prev Next

#14 Hudson

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.8%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 288

Total number of educators evaluated: 153

Prev Next

#13 Gardner

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 3.3%

Percentage with proficient scores: 91.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 5.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 227

Total number of educators evaluated: 120

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#12 Dudley-Charlton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 6.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 88.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.2%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.6%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 320

Total number of educators evaluated: 168

Prev Next

#11 Northbridge

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 4.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 229

Total number of educators evaluated: 200

Prev Next

#10 Winchendon

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.7%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 139

Total number of educators evaluated: 137

Photo: Flickr/AdmissionsQuest

Prev Next

#9 Bellingham

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 1.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 95.6%

Percentage that need improvement: 3.4%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 215

Total number of educators evaluated: 206

Prev Next

#8 Quabbin

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 4.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 92.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.5%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.5%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 207

Total number of educators evaluated: 199

Prev Next

#7 Grafton

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 97.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 253

Total number of educators evaluated: 178

Prev Next

#6 Ralph C. Maher

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 2.6%

Percentage with proficient scores: 94.7%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 79

Total number of educators evaluated: 76

Prev Next

#5 Marlborough

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.9%

Percentage with proficient scores: 96.2%

Percentage that need improvement: 2.8%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 434

Total number of educators evaluated: 423

Prev Next

#3 Auburn (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 202

Total number of educators evaluated: 116

Prev Next

#3 Leominster (Tied)

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 0.0%

Percentage with proficient scores: 99.1%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.9%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 523

Total number of educators evaluated: 332

Prev Next

#2 Wachusett

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 29.1%

Percentage with proficient scores: 70.3%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.6%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 534

Total number of educators evaluated: 334

Prev Next

#1 Douglas

Teacher Scoring Breakdown:

Percentage with exemplary scores: 9.5%

Percentage with proficient scores: 90.5%

Percentage that need improvement: 0.0%

Percentage with unsatisfactory scores: 0.0%

Sample Details:

Number of educators to be evaluated: 123

Total number of educators evaluated: 105

 
 

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