The Little Girl at the Window

Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.

Totto-chan was a grade school girl that didn’t fit into the basic school system – she couldn’t pay attention, she couldn’t sit still, she asked so many questions, she tired-out her teachers. She was always getting into things. After she was expelled from first grade her parents enrolled her in a school for outcasts run by a remarkable headmaster with such a passion for educating children that he built his own school out of used trains. His school welcomed the curiosity of children, allowing them to explore their own pursuits before offering support and structure that would help fan the flames of an ignited heart.

Years later in 1981 Totto-chan, now a famous television personality, wrote a book of stories about her old elementary school. The book, originally written in Japanese, has been translated into numerous languages and is available around the world. The copy that I read comes from my local library, and was recommended to me after some conversations about my own daughter’s elementary school journey.

There’s something wrong with the school system where my daughter goes to school. The best way I’ve come up with to describe it is that when I communicate with the school, or the school system, I have that same feeling that I do when I try to communicate with a government office, or a bank. Regardless of our words, we’re never talking about the same end point – for me it’s my individual daughter’s education; for them it’s their own internal organization. Their final goal is always about the paperwork and the process, even when they claim it isn’t.

Grade three started off with extensive standardized testing that frustrated my daughter more than she let on. In talking with her, she didn’t really understand what these tests were all about, except that they were all anyone talked about and that the computers they used for them didn’t work that great and she sometimes had to redo her work because they didn’t save. (she flailed her hands as she told me this) Last year her teacher (who has since left the school) told stories to the children, many of which my daughter breathlessly repeated to me, fascination in her eyes. She misses her last year teacher greatly – but my guess is that this year’s teacher is a kind of an all-star in the eyes of the board of education because she’s organized and no-nonsense and gets through the curriculum on time.

I would recommend Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window to anyone in education, chances are it’s in your local library system, wherever you are – I would recommend it because it’s full of stories, and stories are what we love and are how we learn best. It’s touching in a way that the quote at the top makes you realize that kids use their senses in amazing ways. I would even call this essential reading for those working in boards of education and for those teachers, principals, and office staff who tend to prioritized paperwork over pupils.

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