"Because," I answer, "I like to watch children growing and learning how to use their brains."
So far this year, since September 2013, I have been hanging out in three classes: one Kindergarten, where growth is very rapid and obvious; one fourth grade, where the light bulbs flash bright-green neon when they come on; and one first grade, where the washing-machine theory of child development is clearly at work.
Washing machines have a built-in timing mechanism that tells the machine how long the water should run in, how long the clothes should swish around in it, how long the emptying and filling again and rinsing and spinning should take. This may be clear to the mechanical mind inside the machine, but it is totally random and inexplicable to me.
When I was younger, I did my family's laundry every Saturday at the Belfast (ME) laundromat. I put the clothes in, put in all the quarters, started the four machines, and went off the the grocery store. Thirty minutes later I put the groceries in the car and came back to the laundromat to start the dryers.
Sometimes the washers were all done. Often, though, they weren't, so I had to wait for them to finish. Each machine's timing was different, and there was no pattern that I could discern, either for them all or for any one. I picked one to watch.
There would be a click, and then another click, and I could see the control button shift slightly with each click; then there would be some time -- maybe a whole minute -- before the next click. I would watch this incomprehensible progression of clicks and wait times, often for another five minutes, until at last there was one more unpredictable clock and the whole machine shuddered to a stop.
Children learn like that, I have found, on their own timing and in their own inexplicable way. There is, of course, more similarity among four washing machines than among any four children, so watching the thirty children in my first grade move through their developmental clicks was way more complex and varied than anything mechanical. Children are more fascinating, too, than any machine could ever be.