All in Favor of Free Range Children, Say Bok!

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. ~ Dalai Lama

Last year my sister ordered 16 baby chicks in the mail so that she could have her own eggs and know exactly where they came from.  Her goal: to raise happy, healthy free range chickens fed the top of the line organic food.  No antibiotics or cheap genetically modified corn products for these chickens au natural!

She loves her chickens.  When they first graduated from the warmly lit crate in the house to the coop she would go daily for “play time”, sit with them and hold them and even talk to them.  Her thinking… happy, loved chickens will eventually produce happy healthy eggs.  Can you say “crazy chicken lady?”  But truly what she was doing really made so much sense!!  Crazy or not!


Sister Lisa with one of her “Goldies”!

There are more and more people ordering baby chicks to free range them.  There are many movements to eat locally and small farms seem to be sprouting up everywhere you look.  We are urged to get back to our roots and consider where our food comes from.  We know that GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) are taking over all of our food sources.  These modifications involve the mutation, insertion or deletion of genes to produce something more quickly, more efficiently and to be adverse to pests or to improve the shelf life of a particular food.  What is happening is we are creating foods that our bodies do not recognize and that we cannot process.  The results are out there.  Just look around and see more obesity than ever in history.  We are farming with our heads and forgetting our hearts and we are hurting our food sources and ultimately ourselves.  So the movement is to move closer to home, closer to the heart.

Free ranging is defined where animals are ”permitted to graze or forage rather than being confined to a feedlot.”  And if you have not seen those feedlots then it is well worth your while to check them out.  There are various documentaries that show how these poor chickens are raised to mass-produce and it is completely inhumane.  (See King Corn, Farmageddon or Food Fight)


And I would argue here that what we are doing to our kids in schools is equally inhumane.  The idea of kids mass-producing great numbers on sterile tests is so far away from why we are here on this earth and what really matters.  It is education without heart.  It is education without soul.  It is education without wonder, curiosity and surprise.  It is all about the brain.  We are intellectualizing ourselves right out of ourselves. We need heart AND mind!!

While I am a proponent of competition in some areas of life, this notion of competing has become the GMO’s of education. Performance is all that is looked at and yet what do we need for our kids to perform?  They need just what the chickens do!  They need opportunities to be free and think and make decisions and to fail and ultimately they need their own version of “the crazy chicken lady”.  Someone who is so dedicated to their needs and the raise them as well-rounded and happy chickens!!  There are so many crazy chicken ladies (and men) out there dying to do their jobs but are less and less able to do so.  We are hurting our kids and our teachers and everyone else involved with the sole purpose of production.  It is a business model that is being taken to the extreme.


If all we ask of our students is to perform then we are going to crack and break them one precious egg at a time.  And dare I even say, what happens when they don’t perform?  Will we then consider genetically modifying them to fit in?  Call me crazy, but I think this has already begun with the increase of kids who are medicated in our schools for ADD and the likes.  Why?  So that they will conform to the feedlot of corporate education.


Hmmmm…and so I imagine a world of free -range children…where schools are a place where hearts and minds  are permitted to graze and explore instead of being confined to the feedlot of corporate America.  What a beautiful fantasy this is.  Can you even imagine?

It makes me think of my dear friend and colleague, Louise, who tells a great story about teaching preschool in the 70’s in northern New Hampshire.  On any given day she and her co- teachers might decide it was a nice day for a field trip.  So they would load up all the kids in the VW bus, leave a note on the door for parents as to their whereabouts and head off to the local mountain or lakeside or whatever their fancy.  For me this is the epitome of free range education and something that would never happen today.

The corporate takeover in education is daunting.  The more people and parents and friends and anyone  I talk to outside of education don’t even know what is going on.  Even those of us in education are often left helpless with the enormity of the situation and just how enmeshed it all is. I just want to say BOK in favor of free range children and baulk at these takeovers and say enough is enough.   Will you Bok with me?  Just say Bok!!

I love eating the eggs from my sister’s chickens.  There is something so perfect about it…I mean even my son when he had his first taste of these eggs exclaimed, “these are the best eggs in the world!!”  And they are.  They are not like supermarket eggs.  They are all different shapes and sizes and the color of them is glorious.  A deep orange that screams with great energy, love and hope!

I know, I know…all that in just one egg!  But you know…it is all in that one egg.  The love, nurturing, heart, soul and respect for the production of that egg that goes on to nurture those who eat it and so on.  The same can be said of taking care of and nurturing our kids in schools…one egg at a time. Bok Bok!!

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt  “~ Dalai Lama

Photo Credits: ,

41 thoughts on “All in Favor of Free Range Children, Say Bok!

  1. What a wonderfully written piece! This is the type of life we’re trying to live, with both free-range chickens AND free-range children! BRAVO. I think if we can keep our food and our education local, this is possible!

  2. Bok,bok,bok! This is brilliant, Tomasen! I think we should start a Slow School Movement to compliment the Slow Food one, where we move at a humane and human pace and acceleration is reserved for speeding cars!

    • Bok! Bok! YES!! Let’s do it! A Slow School Movement!! I am hoping to make it to NYC and to finally get to meet you in person at Renee’s brunch!! Maybe this is a group that can get us all started!
      Thanks for reading and responding. Just LOVED your last post.

  3. You hit the nail on the head, and as a high school teacher, I would add that the same considerations apply to older students as well. With a little creative planning and a lot of TLC, it is possible to put together a curriculum that addresses the needs of the college bound student and also allows for real exploration.

  4. A HUGE set of BOKs……I love the Slow Schools movement idea!! I remember one beautiful autumn day. The late 80s. Warm and the sun was shining. Brilliant blue sky and leaves in full glory.I stopped what my 5th graders were doing and took them for a 10 – 15 minute walk around the school. Then I sent my kids to the art room to borrow oil pastels and the children made beautiful autumn tree drawings with layers of exploding color. Next we wrote haiku poems (or others, as I allowed choice) for our drawings. We mounted and hung our art in the hall. Everyone was engaged and happy. I met a lot of goals that day. I doubt that would happen now. Very sad. The teachable moment, learning to be creative, going with the flow and yet educating children…….helping them develop skills. How could a computer or bubble-the-answer- sheet test measure the benefits of that wonderful workshop moment? We were a group of readers, writers and learners. It was a great year.

    • Bok! Bok! Bok!
      I love the kind of teaching you describe here. How is it that so many are not able to see it? All of my internship was a search for those teachable moments with kids. I also love how you include yourself in that community…”we were a group…”.

      • I am old enough to have been around for the idea of “open classrooms” NOT open building space which seized on a term and bastardized it to create inhospitable schools……but rather the British Infant Informal Education model. Lots of integrated units. It was a child-centered idea. There was a book in the very late 60s called Crisis in the Classroom….then a focus on Piaget and child development stages…..I was VERY lucky to have had a really different kind of teacher education program, and a unique master’s program. And worked in a district where creativity was at varying times accepted or nurtured. And while I had large classes, I often had very reasonable sizes which I think matters a lot. Then I had respect in the community because even though I was the “creative one” or “innovative one” I got results and results with all kinds of kids……and I didn’t have to give up doing what I thought was the best kind of teaching. I was a workshop teacher in my heart from the beginning days. I had a vision to do better each day and then when I actually found the workshop model, I gained ideas that helped me with areas I could not figure out/invent on my own. In the last years of my career I developed a way to make literacy come alive through poetry. My goal was to be a teacher they would not forget; with lessons for a lifetime. Not sure I achieved the goal with all of them, but if you aim high it’s a lot better. I also kept in mind the whole child for my entire career. Parents send us their precious children. And I also know that someone may not be very strong in an area as a child, but can later achieve great things. We need to have a vision for the kinds of classrooms and schools we want. And if we are forced into scripted one size fits all, we are doomed to fail everyone. Maybe get good test scores, but to what end??? Being ready for college and career requires way more than test scores. Our kids need to know how to live and be responsible and enjoy and get along and have plans and goals and dreams. And if they grade on the bell curve, then half the kids are doomed from the start anyhow…….I could go on. I keep thinking I should start a private school.

      • Hi Tomasen,
        I am Janet Clare on FB fyi. I was watching the Reclaiming livestreaming luncheon talk/conversation until my husband needed me to turn off the tv. And I did need to get some errands done, but I will watch again. They have a menu. Hope you are going to write about your experience there!!
        Have you read What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. I think it is excellent and have seen videos of groups at work especially one from a teacher in Colorado who presented with Vicki at NCTE 2012.

      • Hi Janet,
        Yes, I have read and used Vicki and Dorothy’s book in one of my graduate courses. Love it!! I actually met Vicki in person for the first time this weekend as well. Is there a place to access the videos on line?

      • Not that I know, but I talked to Vicki about it at IRA in San Antonio. The teacher in Colorado’s name is Jessica, I think. We should ask Vicki if this can happen….
        Was Vicki at the conference? I want to learn more about it. Sounds like something I would have liked a lot.

      • No Vicki was not there…but I met her the next morning at a brunch that Renee put together of all of the Regio travellers. It was lovely. I am sure you would have loved it. I still need to process before writing more about it!

  5. Bok! Tomasen, I’m saddened as well by the focus on production in education. It’s a disservice to teachers and students. I’ve seen amazing teachers leave the schools out of pure breach of personal ethics in what was being done to students. Love, nurturing, and respect do go such a long way to help support developing thinkers and future doers. Thanks for your encouragement on my blog. Looks like we are boking the same anthem!

  6. Okay. First, I scrolled. That’s what I do. Don’t know why. Saw the picture of the chickens and knee-jerk response (I even said it aloud but the cat already knows I’m weird) was: Looks like my high school.

    Then I read.

    Crack our kids one precious shell at a time. Well said.

    I came here because you liked one of my posts. Think I’ll stay awhile.

  7. Thanks for all your many great posts. I love your take on education. On my own website “Kids in the System” I’ve been running a series called “Teachers in Their Own Words” inviting teachers from a variety of school settings (e.g.reservation, juvenile detention, ESL, magnet school) to guest contribute to the blog on any aspect of education/teaching that they want. I’d like to invite you to be a guest contributor. I hope you will! Thanks

  8. Tomasen, great post! I am all for BOK! I want it for schools and I want it for corporate life. For over 20 years I have worked for companies that are so routine they become boring. There is no happiness and joy in the work place. It seems there are some IT companies that have fun and creative environments but not all of us are in that field. Wouldn’t life be more fun if you could play at work? Thanks for reading “A child with special needs”!

  9. I liked this the first time I read it a few weeks back. Now that I’ve re-read it (along with the comments) I like it even more. It reminds me, once again, of the –simple– fact that education is NOT SIMPLE; that we, as a profession are so often asked to do things that will result in ‘measurable improvements’ but which, in the end, really count for squat as the true gains in education only come with considerable effort and with even greater tolerance for things that take a long time before the results can be measured.

  10. Thanks for stopping by my Blog. Although I have been in and out of “Education” for more than 50 years, my heart is still with the youth of our land. We home-schooled our 4 children, but for not nearly long enough. Usually it was until nine years of age.
    Nearly every time I got out of the teaching profession it was because of the frustration of being forced to teach subject matter rather than children. Each time I went back to teaching I thought, hoped, it would be different. But in the end, it wasn’t.
    It is unfortunate that laws of our country have wrenched the parents’ moral obligation to educate their children out of their hands, to be “factory-taught.” But then not many people live in a relatively rural community where one can raise educational chickens, raise educational cows, goats and other livestock. Nor are most families economically situated for having one parent at home to do the educating.
    Then of course, we have the parents that think they are not capable teachers. All it really takes is a love for your child and a willingness to explore life with him/her with patience. They will learn in spite of your shortcomings.
    Keep up the good work.

  11. I guess I need to stand up and say, although I raise my own chickens, I am not for the free range student movement. (Although I love your writing and arguments.) As a caveat, I should say that I’ve spent most of my time in private schools which are student-centered and “progressive” not in the public schools where students and teachers are bent to the test. My last school was very like the one you mention with VW bus.

    Still, my experience leads me to know that many students need more guidance than I’ve seen from this movement. That those students who have come out of the free-range methodologies are (counter-intuitively) often unable to take appropriate risks, often have learning issues that were never addressed (silent seizures being the last one), and only do what they like, leading to difficulties with work ethic. I have seen the free-range movement be damaging to students because it often throws out the importance of self-discipline. Even if it’s no where near as damaging as the GMO model. It seems that we talk about either/or, this or that when we talk about methodology. I think that somewhere between no limits but far away from small cages, we will find what is best for our students. Neither one or the other is all it’s cracked up to be. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

    I do have to say that I’ve also seen what happens to many chickens on free-range farms. They get eaten by dogs, raccoons, and eagles. They get more diseases and are hurt by cars. Sorry, no bok-ing for me. Even if we are willing to go to the place where children are chickens (and yes, I know it’s a metaphor.) I just would feel safer if I know that there is a safe coop somewhere close by and a farmer who is making sure they are getting the care they need.

    • Good food for thought here!! As always there is a balance and right now there are too many kids in cages or feel as though they are in the “shackles of school”, a quote by my 17 year old son.
      Ideally what works for one does not work for all. What I would like to see is that we work towards noticing and embracing the strengths of each child as they are, not as we want them to conform to be.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Tomasen,

    First. Since I’m a vegetarian, I skipped over the parts about chickens… … However, I totally get what you’re saying and the analogy you are trying to make! It feels like this post has inspired so much of your other posts. To me, in completely related to the posts you wrote about concerning making students feel comfortable enough in the classroom that they voice their opinion, to “teaching without knowing” – it’s in these relationships and in these one-on-one conversations that seem like they create the most love, nourishment, heart, soul and respect, that you call for in this post. Although we’re only together in your class for two weeks, there is no doubt in my mind that this is how you treat every class you teach and visit. And to think the biggest part of all of that is simply LISTENING to the students. Luckily, listening is something I think I do well at. 🙂 However, it baffles me how much time some teachers spend on lecturing their students and then have no relationship with them or no connection with them!!!

    You might enjoy this link:–Q
    And also just because:

    🙂 Lexe

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