Katie sent me a story a while back. It's a story about an early childhood classroom that removed free play and construction with lego blocks and replaced it with rules about how legos could be used.
Okay. Stop right there. What was your reaction to that sentence? What kind of story are you writing in your mind? My first knee-jerk reaction was something like this, and a rising sense of rage about "those grownups! They don't understand!" and the story in my mind was something like this:
- Children playing freely, exploring and constructing their own worlds.
- OH NO! We don't like what the children are doing! We take their toys away.
- Now there are rules about how they can use the toys, and everything is better!
That having been noticed, I went back and actually read the story.
In the weeks after the trading game, we explored questions about how rules are made and enforced, and when they ought to be followed or broken. We aimed to help children see that all rules (including social structures and systems) are made by people with particular perspectives, interests, and experiences that shape their rule-making. And we wanted to encourage them to consider that there are times when rules ought to be questioned or even broken...
Now, my reaction tells me something about the assumptions that I'm making about the roles and motivations of various demographics. And my summary isn't an inaccurate one. But it's interesting to think about what it misses and what it loses because of the lens I chose to write it with. Here's another three-sentence version.
- Children playing freely, creating social hierarchies that reflect the (not always benign) cultural assumptions they're surrounded by.
- Interesting - let's encourage them to reflect on what they're doing, facilitating conversations without the toys around as a point of contention.
- By examining their behavior and codifying what kind of behavior they wanted to have, the children came to a more powerful understanding of how they wanted to use and share their toys, reflected in the rules they made.
What groups do we identify ourselves with, and what assumptions and reactions does that make us have?