Friday, April 06, 2007

Banning...Legos?

I was shocked and dismayed when I found out some teachers banned Legos for a little social experiment.

The article includes such Leftist gems as: "the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive." Kids who are 5-9 years old will have power structures, be they rule of strength or "finders keepers." The fact that these are viewed by a couple of Leftist teachers as mirroring capitalism will not affect these kids. Yes, kids with more "cool pieces" might have more bargaining chips, but they've invested themselves in finding them. Ask a kid if it's fair for everyone to get part of what s/he found, and you'll hear, almost universally, that the other kids should find their own or at least help. It's not capitalism or oppression: it's a sense of inherent fairness.

The teachers decided to try to "promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation." In other words, complete socialism. Rather than kids being kids and figuring out their own ways of playing, they were supposed to share equally while never being sure that everyone was contributing equally. Kids know this isn't fair. Instinctively, a child has a sense of fairness, and it doesn't include full-blown socialism. They'll share, but they don't do community ownership well.

The teachers, of course compared their life experiences to the situation. They "shared our own perspectives on issues of private ownership, wealth, and limited resources." One grew up "without much money" and dislikes those with resources. Another felt bad for the kids who had a few Legos, but couldn't get more without upsetting the "power structure."

"We recognized that children are political beings, actively shaping their social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity — whether we interceded or not. We agreed that we want to take part in shaping the children's understandings from a perspective of social justice." Did it ever occur to these people that kids will be kids?

They talked to the kids about the power of possession, trying to make kids who dug through the bins feel as though they were wrong to dole out pieces. It sounds as though those kids put a lot of work into finding the windows, doors, and other "cool" pieces, then gave them to others as they saw fit. Did those other kids go look through the bins for their own pieces? No wonder the kids with the most cool pieces had the most power.

They asked the children about power. One kid said that he liked it because he could tell others what to do, but that he sometimes didn't like it. Of course, the teachers focused on the idea that he could tell others what to do. That's how kids view power--control. It's almost all the power they have.

The teachers then created a trading game, in which the made sure the rules were skewed arbitrarily. They set two children up to win the first round, then let them each make a rule for the next round. They were surprised that the kids made fair rules (as I've mentioned repeatedly, kids know fairness, and they follow their perceptions of it). Some kids, of course, disliked the winners because the game wasn't fair. "They were unable or unwilling to see that the rules of the game — which mirrored the rules of our capitalist meritocracy — were a setup for winning and losing." The rules mirrored our "capitalist meritocracy?" In Leftist minds, yes, our society is arbitrary and ruthless. Of course, the "Land of Opportunity" isn't perfect, but it's far from the rigged game the teachers set up.

The teachers gave up on their rigged game when it became obvious that kids don't apply that game to real life (nor should they). They moved on to defining ownership. Kids of that age, of course, have very set ideas of ownership. They don't question whether the current owner or the creator actually owns something: once a transfer is done, it's done. It's cut and dried.

They then made the children build a new Legotown in teams. They felt the children learned to be good little socialists, since they didn't get mad at each other for changing designs (of course, it was part of the rules, and kids of that age play within the rules given). Rather than seeing ownership in each kid's prized lego person, they saw that as "personal expression." The kids only had one thing that was theirs, so they treasured it.

At least one of the kids wanted houses of equal sizes, which was a huge leap forward in the teachers' minds. I'd like to see them stop valuing the "special pieces," though. They probably continue to debate those pieces to this day.

They determined new rules for the new Legotown: everyone could use any building anyone created, though the original builder was the only one who could change things; Lego people could be saved by "team," not individuals; structure size would be standardized. Do they still follow these rules? I don't know. I would guess that a particularly creative kid or two still "own" more structures, and they have found ways to link them into larger structures (though separate enough to argue that they're all standard size). A bigger kid or two may have "teams" that they control. Or maybe they've moved on to other games.

You can bet that kids will have power structures. The teachers can do all they like to force these kids to adopt socialism, but they only hurt the children. They say they tried to let the kids make the decisions, but kids will always defer to the adult (until around 5th grade). They may subvert rules (kids are creative), but they won't feel they're on a level playing field with adults. It sounds as though they'd already made their rules of Lego, and the teachers didn't like them. They guided the kids to say a few things they could use as an argument for socialism, then designed a "fair" system.

Of course, all this happened in Seattle, which makes perfect sense. I just hope others who read the article don't try to spread the experiment.

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