A recent article in The New York Times brings to mind the matter I blogged about last week, the search for a way to teach children self-control. The public school system in Red Bank, NJ has developed a curriculum called Tools of the Mind which attempts to develop what they are calling "executive function." I'm no expert, but the skills involved seem to be sequence thoughts and actions, select the needed data and ignore the irrelevant and focus on the task and disregard distractions. Anyone who has spent time around American preschoolers has some idea how rare that skill is.
The article indicates there is no hard data on the results of this program yet, but personally I am grateful someone is making the effort, is really studying how the brain learns and turning away from the idea that the function of schooling is to prepare everyone to go to Harvard and become a doctor or a fund manager.
And the Times article has this little tidbit for a drama teacher like me, who believes that a healthy drama program is not a frill, but a far better exercise in workplace readiness than what goes on in our classrooms:
"[Lev] Vygotsky [Russian psychologist and early childhood development expert] maintained that at 4 or 5, a child’s ability to play creatively with other children was in fact a better gauge of her future academic success than any other indicator, including her vocabulary, her counting skills or her knowledge of the alphabet. Dramatic play, he said, was the training ground where children learned to regulate themselves, to conquer their own unruly minds. In the United States, we often associate play with freedom, but to Vygotsky, dramatic play was actually the arena where children’s actions were most tightly restricted. When a young boy is acting out the role of a daddy making breakfast, he is limited by all the rules of daddy-ness. Some of those limitations come from his playmates: if he starts acting like a baby (or a policeman or a dinosaur) in the middle of making breakfast, the other children will be sure to steer him back to the eggs and bacon. But even beyond that explicit peer pressure, Vygotsky would say, the child is guided by the basic principles of play. Make-believe isn’t as stimulating and satisfying — it simply isn’t as much fun — if you don’t stick to your role. And when children follow the rules of make-believe and push one another to follow those rules, he said, they develop important habits of self-control."And if you think our students in drama won't school one of their peers who is off-task and out of control, you've never been to one of our rehearsals!