Racism. Since George Floyd’s death, we are looking into its face with new eyes. Our rose-coloured glasses have turned smoky grey. The lenses are smudged and scratched. I’m sure that I, at least, need a new prescription. But I really want to see, even if the looking is hard. Stories about race are very old. One of the oldest stories I was introduced to as a child is a fable. Its oral origins are believed to be from Greece before it appeared in print as an Aesop fable in 1547. I remember hearing this story in my childhood, and I’m sure I shared it with my own children too. Perhaps you are familiar with it?
The power of story is in the words and silences.
‘Once upon a time,’ the storyteller begins. Words – four words – capture attention and frame the listeners’ expectations. These few words, cast like a fishing line onto a still blue lake, are spoken with intent and power to shape the listeners’ thoughts and feelings. The storyteller pauses. There is silence. Storyteller and listener turn their gaze together toward the finely split surface of the lake where lure and line have landed, expectant and curious to discover what will emerge.
Two-and-a-half-year-old River stands looking upward, open-mouthed, delight shining in her eyes. This is River’s first visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. This underwater ecosystem is a world that, to River, is brand new. Inside her glassed-in viewing area River stays dry. She breathes. She watches. Tropical fish, jellyfish, and marine life surround her.
I almost missed it. I expect I may have been the only one in the park that morning who did see it, who did hear it. It was one of those moments in time that was barely there – just a few minutes long – and yet it keeps coming back to me like an uncomfortable movie scene that causes me to squirm but also look more closely.
As part of an Ontario Reggio Association course I was taking, I had been observing interactions of mostly children and families in a large community park. I had gone to observe with a research question of “How is freedom expressed by children?”
I sat in the theatre-style auditorium of a Toronto school, listening. At an early learning conference entitled The Value of Listening, it seemed the logical thing to do. Throughout that two day conference I experienced the value of respectful attention for the two Reggio Emilia educators and presenters, Ameila Gambetti and Lella Gandini. I also discovered, at a deep level, the value of listening to children.