Front Porches and Backyards

“Nobody thought much about the front porch when most Americans had them and used them. The great American front porch was just there, open and sociable, an unassigned part of the house that belonged to everyone and no one, a place for family and friends to pass the time.”

–Rochlin, The Front Porch, in Home, Sweet Home

Then the need for privacy took over.  Americans began a love affair with the backyard.  No more need to worry about where the children were, or the possibility that they might get hit by cars or abducted out of their front yards, because, they were safely in the “backyard” which was usually secured by fencing on all sides. An outside cage.  We didn’t have to interact at all with our neighbors.  We could live in a neighborhood with hundreds of other people and not even know their names.  No more waving or asking how people were doing.  No more spontaneous life-sharing moments. We could drive into our garages, shut the garage door behind us before we exited the car, and not say a single word to anyone beyond our family.  We could live a private life and be left alone.  We could coexist by really only existing.

I equate privacy to the backyard.  The backyard serves its purpose.  It’s nice to have a place for your kids to play where you know they are safe and secure.  It’s nice to have a place for your family to “hang out” on a warm, summer evening together.  It’s exactly that, nice and it serves its purpose well.

Yet, the backyard isn’t great.  It doesn’t enable us to be social creatures and share our lives with others.  It doesn’t allow for the spontaneity of meeting new people and encountering unique experiences.  It doesn’t enable us to see the outside world.  It isn’t as meaningful as the front porch.

If I grew up on the internet, my students were born on the internet.  It is part of the fabric of their life.  When we limit their ability to do things on the internet, we are relegating them to the backyard.  Yes, it is safer, but does it carry the same meaning in their lives?  What kind of teaching/learning possibilities are out there for them if we allow them on the front porch to interact, consume, and produce?  After all, there is much more to experience if you are hanging out on the front porch.

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