We watch television
To make it through one more day

by katie liljedahl

We put children in rooms with walls and send parents off to work. “Don’t cry. Wash your hands. Go to the table. Act right so you can grow up. Grow up to watch television to make it through one more day.”

I don’t want to be among the living dead she tells me. She is three and can speak with her eyes. Her screams are met with shrugs “She has attachment issues” they say….I hear something else.


She is in a world where we stick the elderly in linoleum institutions- sterile and manicured. Where three year olds are called students and we are all- each and every one of us a day late and a dollar short playing a madman’s catch up to a life just out of reach. She is screaming for us to climb back into our own humanity. To fold it around us and bury ourselves back into the womb of creation where the ecosystem of god is waiting. She is screaming bloody murder in this classroom because she knows the living dead walk among us and someone must scream or we will all go mad and we will not have a clue as to why.

May you live in interesting times.

We zap our dinners hot and hit the brakes in a sea of red lights—congested roads —-lines of ants marching nowhere….are we mad? Will they look back upon our time and say “This is when the madness began”

The trauma in the room descends into my blood and I go to the bathroom, get down on my knees and pray as if the cement floors were an altar to the gods.

I am a lightworker, i will invoke the light—.”god rain your light on Classroom 2.” Classroom 2 is where all hell has broken loose. Children scream and cry for there mommies while four year old boys whose brains are littered with the relentless debris of poverty smack teachers across the face and spit on my shoes.

It is a cry for love I tell the teachers—they look back- half gone their eyes flooded with stress.

my young beautiful violent children, I wan to hand you dirt and worms. I want to give you clay and bugs, shells and smells…i want to blow the roof off the school and invoke the blessings of all of heaven to rain and shower you. All you want is joy and all i want to give you is the freedom of running through the October woods. I want to give you leaves of yellow and orange and talk about their veins, i want to look you in the eyes and flood you with light by the very act of my gaze. But the reports are due, the other 18 classrooms call.

I am sorry my children, but the day is over and it is time for me to watch tv.

I got into the world of Early Childhood Education because I can sit with a four year old and have a fantastically engaging conversation regarding tadpoles, grandmothers, or toast.  I am intrigued by their brains and delight in exploring and investigating the world through their unabashed curiosity and innovation.  I have taught at nature based preschools where yurts are built after picnics and supporting children in navigating the entire range of human emotions was the most essential role of the teacher. I have also taught at more rigid private schools where unabashed fort building and mud exploring was traded in for pavement playgrounds, cookie cutter classrooms, and an increasing sense of institutionalized care.  As the rate of infants entering early care soars, I witnessed the marching assembly line of cribs being strolled down hallways.  I visited soon to be infant “classrooms” and my stomach sank when I saw the cribs lined up against the wall. 

A sense that something has gone terribly wrong began to sink into my bones.  I traded that feeling in for career motivations and began to pursue a Master’s in Early Childhood Education where I became well versed in developmentally appropriate practice, high quality programming, and play based learning. A year later I found myself on the floor of my preschool classroom at eight o’clock at night on a Sunday with tears in my eyes and confusion in my heart.  Something didn’t feel right. 

I left my teaching job to start a dog hiking business only to find myself back in the field of Early Childhood Education some 13 months later.  It was time to be a professional. It was time to start my career. Maybe I would get involved in policy, advocacy, or grant writing.  It was time to stop being a hippie with dreams of utopian childcare where fort building is as worthy as phonological awareness. Three months into my “big girl job” as an Ed Coordinator for 12 Head Start classrooms, the problem with no name reared its ugly head.  I scoured the internet to see if there was research on childcare actually harming children and was met with a plethora of feminist based articles that assaulted anyone daring to question whether the move to have our children’s raised and reared by institutions was in the best interest of children and families. 

I shoved the problem with no name down and decided to join my organization in its fanatic race to the top.  I was handed articles titled “Data Driven Assessment and Teaching” and joined in hailing the almighty Teaching Strategies Gold as the ultimate panacea for enforcing high quality care. Like a faithful sergeant I marched back to my site and in the best interest of children hammered my teachers with checkpoint deadlines, the push for lesson plans centered around objectives plucked directly from Gold reports, and deadline dates for the ludicrous amount of paperwork that is entailed when providing care and education to young children paid for by the US Government. 

I laughed at the me just weeks earlier who gave the my teachers of whom were up to their eyeballs in stress over the chaos in which their classroom had devolved into a single flower to give them a glimpse of hope and let them know I had their back. No more of that I said to myself. No more Mrs. Nice Lady. I wasn’t here to inspire nor love, empathize nor reform. I was here to enforce, monitor, and regulate.  That pep talk fueled me for three solid weeks before the problem with no name came battling its way out of the buried canyons of my psyche.  Before long I was googling things like “Is Teaching Strategies Gold” good for children and began reading about a movement of people who are also disturbed by the problem with no name. 

Perhaps that pit in my stomach feeling is not because I am a strange star child who cannot hack it in the real world of Early Childhood Education but might just be because perhaps something fundamentally disturbing is truly happening not just in the field of Early Childhood Education but to the very way childhood is viewed and experienced.  And so I now debate between staying in Head Start or hanging my head and waving goodbye to a world I cannot possibly conform to nor possibly change.  
Katie has written for HopeDance

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