Thursday, February 28, 2013

Under The Loft

Yesterday morning as I prepared for class, I found a rather large stash of items hidden under our loft: a toy pony, a car made from Legos, a disabled flip phone we use as a toy, and several other small items, some of which I'd been missing. It's a tiny space, with room for maybe 3 kids to lie down even under the best of circumstances, although I use half the space to store a set of awkward blocks, so there's precious little space under there. Still, there are a couple of guys who spend at least part of their classroom days jammed in there together. 

Over the years, the space under our loft has been where the kids in our 3-5's class go when they seek to be off the adults' radar which is a very, very hard thing to find in a cooperative, where we tend to have adults aplenty. If someone's going to hide instead of clean up, that's where we'll find them. If someone complains about being pinched or being called a "bad name," it will invariably have happened under the loft. And if someone is going to experiment with the awesome power of arbitrarily excluding others, the area under our loft is the place from which they'll seek to exclude.

The loft at times has gained such a negative reputation among the adults that it is periodically suggested that we remove it altogether, or at least limit access. The fact that those blocks are stored under there is at least, in part, as a response to one of these past waves of concern over the loft and the nefarious activities it apparently causes.

When I find a stash like I did yesterday, however, it makes me feel a little sorry for the kids, or at least some of them, the ones who feel they really need a place where they can hide their exploration of certain desires or ideas from the grown-ups. It's dark under there, or at least darker than the rest of our well-lit place, and that's exactly what they kids seek to explore when they're under there: the darkness; the things away from which we adults, whether intentionally or not, steer them. One year there was a pair of boys who got in the habit of setting up shop under there to tell stories so scary that they sometimes reduced the younger children to tears. There was one little girl who would use the darkness to cover for her urge to pinch her classmates so hard they screamed, then deepen the darkness by, no matter what, denying anything at all had happened displaying a wide-eyed innocence that would have made Meryl Streep proud. I identified yesterday's stash as toys as part of one pair of boys' ongoing attempt to avoid clean-up time.

Not all the kids are drawn to this dark place. In fact, most are not, but there are always a few who seem to really need to escape to where adults have no voice, where adult eyes cannot see. They have things they want to know, things they want to explore, and an adult presence, quite obviously, stands in the way. It's a place, of course, where all of us have been: a place of secrets and camaraderie, blood oaths and lies. It's the dark place implied in our fairy tales, where bad guys and villains and evil witches live. And it's such an important place for some children that even if they ran from there in panicked tears one day, they still return, often again and again and again.

What adults know is that it's a place, ultimately, of pain and ugliness, where the only truth, really, is the truth of the darkness. That's why they need to get away from us if they're going to explore it: we can't help but attempt to shine light in there. But they will explore the dark, they must, if not under the loft, then somewhere else. Is school the right place for this exploration? I don't know. At one level, I want it to be, but then again it's impossible for me to not constantly be shining my light into that dark because I am an adult and that's simply what adults do, merely by our presence, as those boys who made this stash know all too well.

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1 comment:

Barbara Zabborowski said...

It's always a fine line we walk, between letting them deal with problems and stepping in, between letting them take risks and keeping them safe, between letting them learn the social rules we live by and teaching them the rules. And it's made harder when you're dealing with licensing and accreditation and directors who need to keep parents happy. By the way, I loved yesterday's wind monster!

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