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A situated ethos of playwork

21 Jun

Turning the playwork story into a narrative for change.

In this new collaboration, Adrian Voce and Gordon Sturrock cast their collective eye over the recent history of playwork in the UK to draw out some lessons for the field on how it might regroup and take a leading role in making the case for a comprehensive national play policy: one consistent with its distinct ethos and approach. 

Abstract

Playwork is a distinct approach to working with children, and a particular set of perspectives on the nature of children’s play in a broader context. We concur with others (e.g. Brown, 2017) that its theory and practice – on play and development, constructs of childhood, the role of adults with children, the allocation and use of space, and children’s rights – are unique among the children’s professions.

This paper attempts to describe some of these perspectives, the practice tenets that arise from them, and the distinct ethos we suggest they comprise. We then propose a broad rationale for playwork advocacy, ­congruent with this ethos and its political dimension.

Vision

We also attempt to set out a long-term vision for the place of playwork practice within a renewed, reimagined public realm; and we suggest some specific shorter-term, more tangible objectives, towards the aim of formulating a sustained government policy framework that recognises and supports playwork without compromising it: achievable milestones on a roadmap to the longer-term vision.

Through a critical appraisal of the field’s recent history, the paper considers how organisational structures for playwork advocacy and professional development have, until now, with the odd exception, been ultimately run not by practitioners but by various branches of government, its agents, employer bodies or established children’s charities – generally more aligned with the current hegemony than with anything approximating to the playwork ethos. We argue that, in the absence of a cohesive and authoritative playwork representative body, this has led to near fatal compromises in the development and dissemination of the playwork approach.

Conundrum

The paper addresses the perennial conundrum of a community of practice that profoundly challenges the status quo; yet which, nevertheless, needs to find sufficient leverage in the mainstream policy discourse to secure the resources it needs to sustain its work. As the professional playwork fraternity attempts to regroup after eight years of austerity and UK government policy reversals, we suggest there is an urgent need for the field to coalesce around a binding narrative – accommodating the plurality of perspectives and approaches that have evolved – to explicitly articulate its ethos in a way that can both speak to a wide public audience and impact on the policymaking process.

The paper concludes that the framework for this narrative should be children’s rights, refracted through the prism of the playwork ethos, which is a bulwark against instrumentalist agendas. We suggest that the playwork field, though greatly incapacitated by the dismantling of its infrastructure and the closure of many of its services and courses, has a legitimate claim to be the practice community best qualified to interpret General Comment 17 of the UNCRC (CRC, 2013) for the UK context. We propose that fully engaging with the rights discourse is the logical strategy for playwork advocates; aligning our ethos to an authoritative, coherent policy case that also resonates with a wider political narrative of social and spatial justice, universal human rights and full citizenship for all.

Adrian Voce and Gordon Sturrock
June 2018

Download the full paper here

Adrian Voce is a founding trustee of the Playwork Foundation. His contribution to this paper is in his personal capacity and does not represent the collective view of the charity.

Photo: Adrian Voce (Tiverton adventure playground, Devon).

This paper was first published by the Playwork Foundation

An organisation that reflects who we are

25 Nov
6. tango swing

Photo: Meriden Adventure Playground

When Penny Wilson was asked to speak at the recent Playwork Foundation launch event, she took her brief seriously; consulting with colleagues and deeply reflecting, both on her practice and on the chequered history of playwork representation. The result was this impassioned entreaty for an organisation that can do justice to the extraordinary work that playworkers do, and live up to the principles by which they stand.


Read Penny’s speech at The Playwork Foundation.

Playwork Foundation Launch Event – 8 November

23 Oct

Jump

Wednesday, 8 November 2017
1.00 – 4.30 pm
Goldsmiths, University of London, SE14

Free, with refreshments

Room number RHB 300
Goldsmiths College
New Cross
London, SE14 6NW

 Speakers include

Professor Fraser Brown, Penny Wilson, Adrian Voce and Meynell

The Playwork Foundation is launching a membership scheme and to mark the occasion, this event is an opportunity to hear different perspectives on the playwork field and its challenges. There will be round-table discussions about the importance of the profession, its future and what is most needed from a new membership body.

The Playwork Foundation is being created as a membership body for the playwork community, offering playwork practitioners, trainers, students, researchers and others:

  • A collective voice to raise awareness about the value of play and playwork
  • A platform to promote and debate issues that affect playwork
  • A strong, credible representative vehicle to make the argument for playwork to policy-makers, the media and the world at large
  • A network for mutual support, dissemination of research, and sharing good practice.

Please join us! To reserve a place email kbenjamin@glos.ac.uk

Photo: Mick Conway

Playwork Foundaion Logo

 

Men in power

16 Oct

Adrian Voce comments:

We may feel that our field is too progressive and liberal to be implicated in the epidemic of misogynistic and predatory male behaviour that is so evidently plaguing others. The courageous Morgan Leichter-Saxby is here to tell us to think again. If women in our profession cannot feel safe, respected and valued as much as their male counterparts, shame on us. We have much work to do.

Play Everything

There’s been lots written lately about sexual abuse by men in positions of power. My Facebook feed is packed with women saying ‘me too’. It’s a start, breaking silence and raising hands, seeing the numbers. But it isn’t enough – I want more stories too, of shock and complacency, choked-down rage and whispered warnings. I don’t only want to know about the women who have left situations as they turned nasty, but also those who stayed and the terrible bargains they were asked to strike. I want to hear from women who watched and said nothing.

Because, me too.

For the past decade I’ve been in a majority-women field. It thinks of itself as progressive or radical, dedicated to subverting systems of oppression and with a whole vocabulary around reading cues and responding appropriately. But the stories of sexual abuse and coercion coming out of other industries are not aberrations…

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Parties for play?

24 May

Bubbles LondonThe UN (2016) has been clear – and a range of evidence confirms – that the UK government needs to commit to doing more for children’s play. This should include: protecting play space through a more child-friendly planning system; supporting the country’s diminishing network of world-renowned adventure playgrounds; and adopting playwork standards for after-school and holiday care. Adrian Voce poses some questions for politicians seeking election in June.

The government has characterised its snap general election (revealing the fixed-term Parliament Act to be essentially meaningless) as the most important for decades, positioning it as an opportunity for the country to unite behind the ‘strong and stable leadership’ of Theresa May in order to give her the clear mandate she says she needs to strike the best deal with the EU in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Labour – still by a long way the main opposition party during the last Parliament – has attempted to broaden the debate, making it about the kind of government we want, and who it is primarily for: ‘the many’ or ‘the few’.

What are play advocates to make of the different approaches of these and the other parties fielding credible candidates? Who is likely to be the most sympathetic to the case for play policy? Children and their families have the right to a safe, playable, child-friendly public realm – something that was promised to them 10 years ago (DCSF, 2008) only to be abandoned in the wake of the financial crisis. Play advocates not willing to accept the current dearth of play policy as the status quo should be asking the parties vying for parents’ votes some questions about their intentions for play.

What is your party’s policy on children’s right to play?

Play Strategy cover2The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has issued a general comment (2013) on states’ obligations under Article 31 of its 1989 convention. This makes clear that children’s right to play must be ‘recognised, protected and fulfilled’ for them by government policy, which should include planning, finance and legislation as necessary. Yet, in 2016, the UNCRC reported its ‘concern about the withdrawal of a play policy in England and the under-funding of play’ across the UK. This followed The Children’s Rights Alliance for England reporting to the UNCRC that since 2010 the UK government had in fact ‘undermined children’s rights under Article 31 …’

The government should now, at the very least, be monitoring the effectiveness and the impact of the statutory play sufficiency duty in Wales to explore its potential for replication in England. A full commitment to article 31 would involve following the recommendation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood to reintroduce a cross-cutting national play strategy like the one for England that was abandoned in 2010.

What plans do you have to enable children to enjoy the freedom to play outside in the public spaces near their homes?

There has been an accumulation of evidence in recent years and decades, of the changing nature of modern childhoods, with many children no longer having the freedom to play outside that previous generations could take for granted. The reasons for this are varied and complex, with traffic, anxiety about ‘stranger-danger’, fear of crime and bullying, commercialisation of pubic space, overly structured out-of-school lives, poor planning, and the lure of electronic media each being cited as the cause of a generation of ‘battery-reared children’.

Whatever the combination of reasons, there is no doubt that, to reverse this trend – a profound change in the way that children grow up, with consequences that we cannot yet fully perceive – will take a concerted and cohesive effort, coordinated within a number of different public policy domains, and informed by a clear vision and strong commitment to a playable, liveable, child-friendly public realm.

What plans do you have to protect the UKs valuable network of staffed adventure playgrounds and other community play projects?

IMG_2314With play infrastructure bodies like Play England and the playwork unit at Skillsactive being among the first casualties of ‘deficit reduction’, it is difficult to gain a full picture of spending on play since the end of the Play Strategy (2008-10), but there is no question that children’s play services have been a major victim of austerity. Various surveys have showed cuts of up to 100 per cent in local authority play budgets, and an average reduction of more than 50 per cent from 2010-15. Play academic Wendy Russell estimates that there are now fewer than 150 adventure playgrounds remaining, with many of these still facing cuts.

What would your government do to maintain standards in after-school and holiday play schemes so that children are supported to enjoy their leisure time and not effectively forced to endure 8-10 hour school days?

Children should be able to play freely after school in whatever environment they find themselves. Playwork is the only profession dedicated to this, but the deregulation of extended services and out-of-school provision for children aged 8 and over means that it is no longer recognised, let alone required by inspectors, who therefore apply school performance criteria to a domain that should be for children’s play. School-aged childcare, after-school clubs and ‘extended services’ should contain a basic offer of playwork provision, appropriately staffed by qualified practitioners; and should also provide enriched play environments, including a requirement for outdoor space, as identified by good playwork practice.

Adrian Voce

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015)


A synthesis of these questions has been addressed to each of the main parties in the election. We will publish any replies here; and also, over the remaining days of the campaign, examine each of the parties’ manifestos for any signs of an emergent play policy, as well as considering the wider question of their position on children’s rights in general.


References 

CRC, 2016, Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Department for Schools and Families, 2008, The Play Strategy, London: Crown Copyright.


Main photo: Nate Edwards
Inset photo: Adrian Voce
Play Strategy image: HM Government

Space to Play symposium

15 Mar
Adrian Voce OBE will lead a symposium on children’s play, with artist Mark Neville, at the Foundling Museum in central London on 20 March 2017

The importance of time and space for children to play is established across a range of scientific disciplines, with a child’s right to play recognised in international law. Yet play is rarely a priority for government, planners or developers. Public spaces are increasingly privatised, and in the age of austerity, the play projects and services that bridge this deficit, such as adventure playgrounds, are often first in line for closure. As part of Child’s Play, this symposium explores how we provide for this universal right, asks why space to play is not better protected within the public realm, and considers what can or should be done to afford all children the space to play. The day will include a tour of the exhibition, led by Mark Neville, revealing the stories behind his work.

Speakers and papers include:

  • Play, Politics and the Right to the City, Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucester
  • Making Space for Childhood, Maisie Rowe, Space for Childhood
  • The Subversive Potentials of Play and Art: challenging disciplinarian and austere horizons, Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
  • The Invisible Barrier Beyond the Front Door: traffic’s impact on children’s play, belonging and social life in the streets where they live, Alice Ferguson, Playing Out
  • Stop Play Pause, Jack James, South London Gallery and Betsy Dadd & Lydia CS, Kaleidoworks
  • Secure Places, Secure Spaces, and Secure Faces: attachment at the heart of play, Mark Coulson and Andrea Oskis, Middlesex University
  • Shirley Baker: an abundance of children (with the occasional woman and man), Anna Douglas, University of Leeds
  • The Value of Investing in Our Children, Marion Briggs, Alliance for Childhood

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015) and President of the European Network for Child-friendly Cities. After a long career as a playworker, he was the first Director of London Play (1998-2004), securing policy commitments for children’s play from the London Mayor. As Director of the Children’s Play Council and then Play England (2004-2011) he was key in securing almost £350m of public funding for children’s play. He has produced a number of influential publications and appeared often in the national media speaking and writing about play policy. He was awarded an OBE for services to children in 2011.

Mark Neville is a British artist who has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and the Photographers’ Gallery. He works at the intersection of art and documentary, investigating the social function of photography. His photographic projects to date have frequently made the communities he portrays the primary audience for the work. In 2012 the Andy Warhol Museum exhibited a body of newly commissioned photographic works by Neville which focused upon issues of race and the legacy of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. In the same year The New York Times Magazine commissioned Neville to make the critically acclaimed photo essay Here Is London, which they subsequently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


Space to Play – a symposium

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
20 March 2017
9:30 – 16:30
Tickets £20 (£15 concessions & Foundling Friends)
To book a place, please click here

The Foundling Museum is a registered charity and all income from ticket sales supports its work.

Why we need the Playwork Foundation

13 Jul

In this adapted version of an article originally published in the International Journal of Play, Adrian Voce places the establishment of the Playwork Foundation in its historical context, and sugge…

Source: Why we need the Playwork Foundation

10 reasons to continue providing adventure playgrounds

7 Jul
Felix Rd AP 2

Photo: Felix Road Adventure Playground

The Playwork Foundation has published a blog setting out the case against closing adventure playgrounds, which is well worth a read:

‘Playwork is an essential component of adventure playgrounds, a form of staffed provision renowned the world over as offering children the best opportunities to play within a dedicated, manag…

Source: 10 reasons to continue providing adventure playgrounds

How the world’s most ambitious play policy was interrupted

23 Mar

 

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Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right
by Adrian Voce
Policy Press, 2015
Reviewed by Maria Nordström

 Maria Nordström reviews a book that describes how a policy initiative in England, which elevated the importance of planning and investment in children’s play, became a pawn in a game of high politics.

In London, in 2004, Adrian Voce, the author of this engaging new book, was at the forefront of a play policy initiative that was perhaps unique anywhere in the world. It was then that the first elected Mayor of London (2004) published the London Plan, the spatial and economic development strategy for one of the world’s greatest cities.

Thanks largely to Voce and his colleagues at the small, regional NGO, London Play, this important, high-level strategy included a policy to protect and develop space for children’s play: a commitment that was then underpinned by the production of guidance (Mayor of London, 2005) to London’s 33 local borough councils on how they should develop local play strategies to implement the policy. There followed supplementary planning guidance (Mayor of London, 2008) on minimum space standards – qualitative and quantitative – for children’s play space.

This ground-breaking development in London led, indirectly, two years later, to the adoption of the Mayor’s approach by England’s largest non-governmental funding body, the Big Lottery Fund (2006) for its £155m Children’s Play Initiative, which saw each of England’s local authorities develop area wide play strategies as the basis for allocated lottery funding. It was no coincidence that, by this time, Voce was director of the influential Children’s Play Council, which became the lottery programme’s delivery partner – establishing the new national body, Play England in the process.

Suddenly, children’s play, playgrounds and play space were on the agenda like never before. Crucially, the importance of proper strategic planning for play was being recognised by policymakers for the first time…

Suddenly, children’s play, playgrounds and play space were on the agenda like never before. Crucially, the importance of proper strategic planning for play was being recognised by policymakers for the first time, and it was not long before the national government got in on the act.

The UK government’s £235m Play Strategy (DCMS, 2008), with Play England contracted to support its delivery, was intended to last for ten years, aiming to make England ‘the best place in the world to grow up’. But it was not to be. Consequent to the major economic crisis of 2007-2008, and the change of government in 2010, the strategy was cancelled – but not before the unprecedented sum of £360m had been spent on public play provision.

Britain has long had its strong personalities committed to children’s right to a child-friendly city, and especially to their right to play. Adrian Voce joins Colin Ward, Roger Hart, Tim Gill and several other influential writers and thinkers who have made Britain a beacon for play advocates everywhere. The most famous of these, Roger Hart, the eminent children’s geographer now living in the United States, has written a fine foreword to this book.

Voce…paints a vivid picture of how strong an influence can be wielded by dedicated practitioners – in this case playworkers – when committed to affecting change.

Voce shows how the play policy venture became a pawn in a highly political game, but he also paints a vivid picture of how strong an influence can be wielded by dedicated practitioners – in this case playworkers – when committed to affecting change.

These ‘advocates for play’ are an English phenomenon, with no direct equivalent in Sweden. Perhaps the closest comparison is with people working in, for example, park games, whose task it is to encourage and support children’s play without controlling or organising it according to predetermined programmes or ‘outcomes’.

The emergence of playworkers, of whom Voce himself was one, arose from those who staffed traditional adventure playgrounds in England from the 1950s and 60s onwards, and it is to such places that he suggests one should look to discover the essence of a good play space. Adventure playgrounds simply allow children space to explore, materials to mould and environments to transform, constantly evolving as integral components of their daily play lives, where something new will always emerge.

Such places – or equivalent – and their qualities are essential components of good play provision according to Voce. His book challenges our notions of playgrounds as defined spaces, locked into a specific appearance and reliant on pre-existing designs and equipment. Instead, there is the suggestion that all space for children should simply be conceived as a place where they might play, and to afford them as many possibilities for it as possible.

his book challenges our notions of playgrounds as defined spaces, locked into a specific appearance and reliant on pre-existing designs and equipment

Voce and his practitioner colleagues have happily adopted the term ‘playwork’ to describe their role; it is important, he emphasises, that we understand that play and work are not opposing phenomena. Referring to a well-known quote from the great play scholar, Brian Sutton-Smith, Voce agrees that the opposite of play is depression.

The English Play Strategy, and the longer-term play policy adventure that Voce relates so vividly, came to an abrupt end in 2010. Perhaps as a consolation to the reader – and himself – Voce mentions briefly the more enduring (so far), play policy of Wales – which has devolved powers for education, youth and, therefore, play. Here, there is now a legal requirement on all municipalities to account for and evaluate a ‘sufficiency’ of children’s local play opportunities: the first country in the world to enact such a measure, he says.

Once upon a time, Sweden was unique, with our national standards for children’s playgrounds in newly built neighbourhoods. But that story is not written yet; not in English.

Maria Nordström, Ph.D., Environmental Psychologist, is a visiting researcher at the Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences.

 References

 Big Lottery Fund (BIG) (2005) Children’s Play Initiative: https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/programmes/england/childrens-play

DCSF / DCMS (2008), The Play Strategy, London: Crown Copyright.

Mayor of London (2004) The London Plan: the Spatial Development Strategy for London, London: Greater London Authority.

Mayor of London (2005), Guide to Preparing Play Strategies; planning inclusive play space and opportunities for all London’s children and young people. London: Greater London Authority.

Mayor of London (2008), Supplementary Planning Guidance: providing for children and young people’s play and informal recreation, London: Greater London Authority.


This review has been translated from the original Swedish version, which first appeared in the print journal, STAD: debatt och reflexion om urbana landscape (CITY: debate and reflection on urban landscapes), Issue 12, March, 2016.


Policy for Play can be ordered here

 

 

 

“Let’s end the institutionalisation of childhood”

9 Feb

In this interview from the ‘Childcare Conversations’ series on First Discoverers, author of Policy for Play, Adrian Voce talks about why he found playwork so rewarding and why campaigning for children’s right to play is so important to him.

Above all, writer Adrian Voce is a passionate advocate for children’s play, which his latest book ‘Policy for Play’ uncompromisingly describes as a child’s ‘forgotten right’. In conversation with First Discoverers, Adrian reveals some thought-provoking observations about childcare issues, explains why working with children is a privilege, and calls for an end to the ‘institutionalisation of childhood’.

“… more a playworker than a childcare worker”

Careerwise, Adrian recalls how, even before he became a parent, he felt very fortunate to be working on adventure playgrounds: “… my working life was a kind of reverse of the norm. Most other people went home to their families at the end of the day. I used to get the feeling I was coming home each day that I went into work …”

Role definition is significant for Adrian who definitely regards himself ‘more as a playworker than a childcare worker’, and it’s uplifting to hear his explanation of why the distinction is important: “I think children playing … are as vibrant and alive as humanity gets and it’s a huge privilege to be in that world again, with the reflective capacity of an adult.” Continuing, he confesses himself: “… driven by the need to help create [play] opportunities for children who may not otherwise have so many of them.”

adrian-voce-children-seesaw

Dignity, respect and empathy…

Discussing inspirational moments he has experienced, Adrian recounts a moving story which will resonate with all childcare professionals:

“I worked as a special needs assistant, supporting a boy with mobility difficulties to take part in the mainstream education system. He was a normal little boy with a love of play and sport, and a real competitive nature. But his legs didn’t work very well and he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees. He was a great crawler! My job was to intervene as little as necessary to enable him to be part of the class, but mainly to just let him get on with it.

One sports day in Year 2, he lined up with other kids for a beanbag race between two teams. When it was his turn to race, the boy from the other team who lined up against him, when he saw who he was up against, without any cue or instruction from the adults or other kids, just instinctively dropped to his hands and knees so that they could have a fair race. I thought that was quite special.”

“It’s time we asked … whether schools and childcare are children-ready”

As a respected consultant on public provision for children’s play and the founding director of Play England, Adrian is clearly a dedicated campaigner – so look away now if you are easily unnerved by forthright opinion expressed by a committed children’s activist –

On playwork:

“I’d like to see the tenets, knowledge and skills of playwork recognised as core to the skill-set required for all childcare workers, in both early years and after school settings; and a reversal of the insidious institutionalisation of childhood that I fear is a result of our obsession with a very narrow measure of education.”

On schools and childcare:

“Rather than focusing on children being school-ready, it’s time we took a few big steps back and asked whether schools and childcare are really children-ready.”

On parenting attitudes:

“The message [parents] get is that they are over-protective, paranoid even, for being wary to let their children out alone … what is ‘risky play’ for example? It does not sound like something I would like my children to be doing! I think it’s an ill-advised label for a sensible, professional approach to managing risks …”

children-rollerblading

Paradise lost…

Working with others on a national campaign to persuade government to make children’s play a policy priority enabled Adrian to voice his playwork philosophy:

I think children should be in supportive environments where they feel safe and secure enough to be themselves … to explore, invent, manipulate and discover. [They should have] access to the elements, a wide range of loose parts and materials … and opportunities to climb, hide, build, jump, balance, swing and all the other things a playful child wants to do … their playful nature will do the rest.”

Nevertheless, as he recounts, political intervention eventually succeeded in transforming an enlightened, groundbreaking approach into a roller-coaster ride:

“This led to the national Play Strategy for England of 2008, an ambitious 10-12 year plan with many different elements, that was designed to make England the best country in the world for children’s play. Seeing this scrapped after only two years, by people who did not even understand what it was, was pretty tough …”

“… there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer … for children.”

Moving on to discuss the supposed perils of play, Adrian’s playworker perspective on adventure play evokes a nuanced response. When asked if children can ever be ‘too safe’, he observes:

This is a big question and it depends what we mean by safe. Emotionally, no: the more loved and accepted a child feels, the more resilient, creative and adaptable they will be. But physically, denying children the incremental freedoms they need to explore the world on its own terms is not really keeping them safe, but rather protecting ourselves from the objects of our own anxiety … I wonder sometimes whether we put too much focus as a sector on the whole issue of risk and safety … Another problem I have with some of the current discourse about risk is that it tends to overshadow the fact that some of the risks parents are concerned about are all too real … [with] traffic, for example, they may have a real concern about exposing children to roads that are many times busier and more dangerous than they used to be. If we want parents to be more willing to allow their children the freedom to play outside, then there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer – and seen to be safer – for children.”

And finally, Adrian’s advice to anyone considering a career in childcare is predictably upbeat and enthusiastic:

Go for it! Working with children is the most enjoyable way to make a living that I’ve ever had the privilege to follow. Be real, don’t patronise them … they will respond to that and reward you with absolute trust … I think children need that feeling of a safe place, where they can be themselves and know that they are OK, no matter what. I think a good playworker (childcare worker, teacher) gives them that.”

David Williams

This interview first appeared on First Discoverers

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