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The child has a hundred languages… but they steal ninety-nine.

My son attends a wonderful, progressive PK-8 school. The school is deeply committed to a Reggio Emilia approach to learning. Among the many ways that orientation manifests is through an umbrella project which is “a series of provocations based on an idea that is meant to spark creative thinking and connect students across classrooms and age-levels.” It is a school-wide project and they use the term “umbrella” metaphorically to mean they “are thinking of one big idea, one rich concept… to start an investigation or inquiry.” Last year’s umbrella project was around the theme of tinkering, “an inquiry into children’s exploration of mechanics and engineering.”

This year, the “umbrella” is a poem by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, called The Hundred Languages. The poem reads:

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

~Loris Malaguzzi
(translated by Lella Gandini)

School has been in session for less than two weeks now, but the kids are already beginning to make meaning from the poem and to construct artifacts related to their understanding of the poem. I visited my son’s first grade classroom last night and read some of the kids’ reflections and saw some artifacts of their construction of meaning around the poem. Who knows where their wonderful minds will take them; I can’t wait to see where they will go with this.

In the meantime, can you imagine *your* school, or your kids’ school having them read a poem about the injustices done to kids by school and society?

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