It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, Even if That Child is an Adult By Teacher Tom

March 10th, 2024


“The greatest gift we can give our children is to go out into our villages and neighborhoods alongside our children, living and learning as they live and learn.” -Teacher Tom


I’ve spent my entire classroom career working shoulder-to-shoulder with the parents of the children I taught. As a cooperative school, to enroll children in our classes, an adult, typically a parent, but sometimes a grandparent, nanny, or other caretaker, was required to attend a minimum of one day a week to serve as an assistant teacher.


I would not have accepted a job in any other type of school. Our daughter and I had attended cooperative preschool together. When I observe more typical classrooms, I can’t help but think how much easier and better the experience for both the educators and the children would be with more parent participation. For one thing, there’s the math: our cooperative enjoyed child-adult ratios from 2:1 to 5:1. The simple presence of so many arms, legs, and laps meant that we didn’t need to interrupt our classroom flow every time a child needed help in the toilet or with tending to a scraped knee or simply being supported through an overwhelming emotion.



Because our ratios were so high, and because it was presumed that the presence of loving parents automatically reduced risks of all kinds, we were in a position to develop and enforce our own regulations and policies. Even our insurance company left us alone — not once in 20 years did a representative of the company feel the need to inspect our school. They just kept renewing our policy year after year, no questions asked.


But, the biggest advantage of the cooperative model, from the perspective of a classroom teacher, was that I got to work as a colleague with every child’s primary caregiver at least once a week. And once a month, we all came together in the evening for parent education, a time to collectively discuss our children, and the intentions, theories, practices, and practicalities of what was happening both at home and in the classroom.


When I tell educators in conventional preschools about our cooperative, their responses tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they sigh and say something like, “It would be so nice to have more parent participation, but they’re too busy,” or they roll their eyes and say something like, “I’ve had it up to here with the parents already.” The assumption is that our cooperative must only serve privileged families and/or that I must be some sort of charismatic leader or saint or something.


The truth is that 20 percent of the families we served in any given year received financial aid to pay tuitions that were already among the lowest in our city — $200-$400 a month. And while there were always a few families that made ends meet on one salary, most were two-income households. The children, however, were privileged in the sense that their families had consciously arranged their lives, often taking pay cuts or working odd hours, in order to spend this time with their children, in a community of like minded families. Our cooperative was still not right for everyone, but the parents in the co-op were every bit as busy as parents elsewhere, they were just able to prioritize their schedule to include cooperative preschool.



As for my own skills in working with parents, I spent my entire first year finding it difficult to even make eye contact with many of the adults in the room. I worried every day that I was being judged, that I would make someone angry, that I’d be accused of favoritism or neglect or not teaching this or that in the right way. And while I certainly received feedback of all kinds from parents over the years, the real sense of things that emerged, and continued to emerge, was one of a community, working together as neighbors and colleagues, under the unifying umbrella of caring for our children. Our children.


For me, this is the greatest beauty of a cooperative. Every preschool becomes a community of children, but a cooperative becomes a community of families. Like the tribes, villages and neighborhoods of bygone eras a cooperative becomes a place where we, together, share the responsibility, pain, and joy of performing the primary function of every civilization that has ever existed: caring for our children. Our children.



Lately, I’ve been receiving feedback on my posts insisting on the parent’s right to bully educators about how and what they “teach” in their classrooms, which includes banning books, forbidding honest discussion of certain topics, and otherwise insisting, as one person recently did, that “Parents, not schools, develop a child’s potential.” It makes me sad, this narrow focus on my child.


Everyone knows it takes a village to raise a child, but it seems that too many of us have no idea why. Maybe they think it’s just about having access to those extra arms and legs, but the real reason children need a village is that, by definition, a village provides children with an array of values, ideas, traditions and perspectives, many of which differ from those of their parents. That is the strength of community and it is the kind of education our children need.


The children from Christian families enthused about the Easter Bunny, for instance, while the Jewish children insisted that the Easter Bunny was a lie. I once sang a song in class that included the word “hell,” and not in a religious sense. As I sang it, one girl’s jaw dropped. It was clear that in her family it was a forbidden word. She was sitting on her mother’s lap, however, and I read her mother’s lips, “It’s okay in this song.” Some of our families were strict vegans. Some were gay. We all had differing racial and cultural backgrounds. 


That is the purpose of coming together like this, especially in the early years. We’re not here to somehow collectively learn to count and recite the alphabet; we are here to begin to move beyond me and mine into the wide, wonderful world of we and us. This doesn’t mean that we must change our minds. It doesn’t mean that our own family heritage or values or beliefs are wrong. It doesn’t mean that the Jewish children must now adopt Easter, that our daughters will now start using the word “hell” as an expletive, or that everyone must become vegan or gay or melting-pot gray. What it does mean, however, is that we must learn to live together, and even rejoice in our diversity.


The sad thing is that too many of us have forgotten what community is, even as, at some level we all crave it. It’s sad because it seems that too many parents have the idea that they own their children, that they have the exclusive rights to “develop” them, and that the children themselves have no say in it. And in a misguided attempt to exercise control, these parents have decided that they have a right, even a responsibility, to shield them from anything that differs from their own narrow perspective. They fear diversity, which is to say, they fear community, they fear the village, because, at bottom, they fear that they will lose ownership of their child. It’s sad because that loss of control is inevitable. It will happen sooner or later and the more they try to control their children, the more they try to “protect” them from our wide, wonderful world, the more complete, ugly, and painful the break will be when it comes. 

The greatest gift we can give our children is to go out into our villages and neighborhoods alongside our children, living and learning as they live and learn.

It takes a village to raise a child, even if that child is an adult.


Thank you, Teacher Tom, for writing for our blog!

I am a preschool teacher, blogger, speaker, artist and the author of Teacher Tom’s First Book. After nearly 20 years as the preschool teacher at the Woodland Park Cooperative School teaching children from 2-5, I’m now working with businesses and other institutions to help make high-quality, play-based preschool education a possibility for children everywhere.