|"do nothing without joy." - Loris Malaguzzi, founder of REA|
Dear Reggio Emilia Approach,
I will start by saying: "It's not you, it's me".
Yet, that really wouldn't be the truth. It IS you. That is why this letter is so difficult to write.[I really never thought I would write this letter because, like other long term relationships, one never thinks of them ending or changing. This pang to break-up came suddenly to me last week and I have thought deeply about whether or not to write these words. Like any other break-up, I stand strong in what I have to say yet it does not mean that my heart is not breaking.]
We have known each other - well, I have tried to know you - for over 20 years. You altered my teaching life in the most dramatic way when I was a brand new teacher. In turn, you have changed my actual life - the Who I Am and What I Consider Beautiful and How I Respect Children. I am a better, more thoughtful and patient educator. I am a better narrator. I am a better photographer. You changed me and I will always be indebted to you for the gift of loving being an early learning educator.[When I was a younger teacher, I thought perhaps I should study the Italian language, I should always use mirrors, I should use black slender ink pens, and - without question - I should have a giant slab of clay just there in the center of the table for children to explore everyday]
However, over all these years, the you that I understand has become something else to millions of others from around the world. You are misinterpreted and misrepresented. You are THE Approach to early education that nearly all who get a glimpse of you begin to introduce themselves by saying: "I am a teacher inspired by the values of Reggio Emilia". Who wouldn't be inspired by you? It is inconceivable to not be inspired by you. The Rights of Children, the Environment as Third Teacher, the Teacher as Researcher, the documentation, photography, natural materials, clay, community, food, light, dialogues...it is all so inspirational. And, we cannot forget The City. The city itself is so inspirational.[Sigh. I am thinking of the Lions in the Piazza, the Amusement Park for the Birds, the study of Crowds and the phenomenal world-renowned traveling Exhibit.]
Of course, nearly all who are inspired by you are not from Your city. Nearly all who are inspired by you only see the the hard work you have already done for over 50 years to offer these beautiful, respectful schools to your families. The people from around the world who say "I am inspired by Reggio Emilia" are often trying to "DO" Reggio. Isn't that sort of funny? And a bit sad? That the highest quality early learning center in the world - you, Reggio Emilia - that prides itself on representing its own community, art, language, and culture is being REPLICATED by schools around the world? What happened here? What is missing in the RE message that most believers in you allow their own Culture, their own Children, their own City to not be represented in their School? Isn't it leaning towards crazy that each educator that is replicating you has completely lost the true beauty of their own footprint, their own mountains, their own curvy streets that surely lead to wondrously glorious places?[I am remembering my first workshop with RE educators in 1992 in Boston. It was their first official lengthy workshop in the US, they spoke entirely in Italian, then their lecture was read aloud again in its entirety in English. One of the most amazing 4 days of my teaching life.]
Within the blogging world, when I asked educators what they value about RE, they shared that the open sense of Time, the Respect for children, the Environment as teacher, the 100 Languages, the teacher and child as Co-Constructors were the keys. I believe in these educators. They do see the richest ideals of RE. Yet I also wonder how many other educators are forgetting to examine what is important to THEM. Rarely, if ever, have I seen or read educators flat out adding - stating for fact - their own ideals from their own school culture that they have weaved seamlessly into their mission. I feel like we - including me - are so dazzled by the inspiration of REA that we don't even consider incorporating our own beliefs or values. THAT is why I am breaking up with REA. I cannot teach in the beautiful school that I teach and keep seeing what is missing from the RE value set.[I am setting down the glasses that I have worn for over 20 years that kept me seeing schools and spaces only from the RE perspective.]
I want to be committed to where I teach, what our school believes in, and fold in what our own educators choose are the values of our City and Community. This doesn't mean others should do the same, that's the point. Follow what makes sense to you. It's just that, for me, I realize being inspired by you, Reggio, does not let me see anything else.[I am a member of NAREA. I have traveled to Boston, St. Louis, Boulder, Calgary, and many cities in California to learn from Amelia Gambetti, Leila Gandini, George Forman and others. I have traveled to Italy. I have seen the Exhibit perhaps 10 times. I own nearly every quality book published about Reggio. My first edition 100 Languages yellow book, dog-eared and highlighted, is my educator bible.]
I hope we can still be friends.