“Are you a homeschooler?”
“Do you do Reggio?”
“You must be a Montessori teacher.”
“Everything you write about makes perfect sense with ‘philosophy xyz’. I’m surprised you aren’t doing that.”
At first, I was surprised when people asked with certainty about my association with theories and practices to which I am not fully devoted. But it makes sense for people to try to put their finger on where you’re coming from. To find where you fit. It’s how we make sense of things as humans.
But I don’t fit neatly into one box.
Maybe I should blame my mom.
From Bits and Pieces
My mom is an amazing seamstress. When I was little she owned a fabric store, which often meant I could play with many of the different textiles to create whatever my childhood imagination wanted. When I wanted long hair like Rapunzel, I braided half a bolt of purple spandex and wrapped the opening at the top around my head like a cap.
I thought I was a genius.
I’m sure I looked ridiculous.
I’m equally sure my mom was just happy I was busy. And that I didn’t wear my creation out in public. Much.
But my mom could do something even better with all those yards of fabric in her store. She made wall hangings, costumes, shoulder pad-infused jumpsuits (it was the 80’s, afterall), and at least half of my formal dresses in high school (sometimes finishing the last stitch WHILE I was in the dress waiting for my date).
Today, her favorite projects are quilts.
My dad jokes that it must be a sign of insanity to cut fabric into pieces only to sew them back together again (to which she would point out that it’s equally insane to hit a golf ball just to track it down and then hit it further away again). But anyone who’s snuggled under the comfort and warmth of a cozy quilt would agree that there’s nothing wrong with this art.
Whether she’s reviving a family heirloom someone discovered in their grandmother’s attic, or piecing together new designs, my mom points out that the interweaving fabric of a quilt can tell a story. Different cultures and time periods use different colors, different prints, and different intricate block designs.
The pieces of fabric come together from different origins to accent and define unique shapes and patterns, creating something beautiful. Historically speaking, the different patterns and piecing and materials in a quilt are often indications of where the quilter has been. It’s their story in patchwork form.
I feel like my personal philosophy for education and child development is pieced together from my own past. Maybe that’s why people – including myself – struggle to put one label on it. It’s been constructed with interlocking pieces of the philosophies and theories I’ve studied throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs and beyond, along with my experiences and interactions as an educator and parent. All combining together to create my patchwork philosophy
Like a familiar print scattered throughout a quilt, people often recognize the piece that is most familiar to them. They may notice repeating themes of responsiveness, constructivism, simplicity, developmental guides, or inside-out design. They may ask about Piaget, Vygotsky, Gerber, Katz, Gartrell, or Louv. They may find shades of Reggio or Waldorf or Montessori.
If they look closely, they’ll also see the stitching of mentors and colleagues, winding their influence and perspectives through and around each edge. People who challenged me not just to repeat but to converse. To think critically and to consider things I hadn’t seen before. They showed me the materials and challenged me to make something beautiful by including more than one fabric. A tapestry that clearly isn’t something I can call uniquely mine, but a composite that is, in fact, unique.
This is not to detract from specialists at all. Some of my dearest friends and mentors lean more toward philosophical purists. They’ve devoted an incredible amount of time and talent to their training and make amazing contributions in many different spheres. I’m incredibly grateful for their influence — the guided stitching they add to my personal philosophy.
It’s just that when I try to put my finger on my own philosophy, this patchwork approach is my best explanation for why I don’t fit neatly in a box.
I’ve been asked if I am a “generalist”. Which I suppose might be the box I would have to check if I had to stake a claim. That is, as long as a generalist is someone who wants to hear about as many of the theories and perspectives as she can, holds on to all the best pieces and interweaving commonalities she finds, while still leaving one hand open for others to add. (Like many of the projects in my mom’s sewing room, my philosophy is still a work in progress, as I build and edit with each experience.)
Maybe it’s the nonconformist in me (the one who would attach a long purple spandex braid to her head without batting an eye). Maybe it’s a residual hesitancy, left over from my past experience with dangerous inflexibility. And maybe it’s just a lifetime of watching bits and pieces coming together from many different sources to create something beautiful.
But this is where I feel most comfortable. Here in my patchwork philosophy.