Thursday, April 30, 2015

Talking, Listening, And Thinking

Several weeks ago, I told a story about a small group of boys who wanted to play "bad guys" and a larger group of children who wanted them to stop. After much discussion, the "bad guys" finally proposed that they would still play bad guys, but they wouldn't act like bad guys. This didn't satisfy many of the anti-bad guy faction, but it's where we left matters for the day. There was no apparent bad guy play that afternoon, and now, more than a month later, there still has been no return of bad guy play.

There's a kicker to this story.

A couple days after our classroom discussion, the mother of one of the leaders of the bad guys, said to me, "He told me he wasn't going to play bad guys any more because Francis doesn't like it." He had gone home and thought about himself, his classmates, and his relationships with them. He had thought about his reputation and the kind of boy he wanted to be, and from that, made a difficult decision. At the time, we were both proud of him, but wondered if he would be able to stick to it.

Here we are six weeks later, and still no sign of bad guys.

Two nights ago, after our big all-school spring orientation meeting for parents, I went for a drink with his mom. I brought up the story. She said, "That has become a real turning-point moment for us. I asked him how he felt about giving up being a bad guy. He told me it made him sad, but he was going to stick to his decision because he didn't like scaring Francis. He's holding these two ideas in his mind and choosing one of them even though he doesn't want to."

No one told him to stop playing bad guys. No adult stepped in with threats or artificial consequences or promises of ice cream. Had we done that, had we attempted to impose or cajole a solution, we would have really only left him with the choices of obedience or disobedience, which is where young children so often find themselves. By instead stepping back, we left a space in which deep, reflective thinking could actually take place, and learning to think for ourselves is why we come to school.

This has been, and continues to be, a democratic process. Too often we act as if democracy is merely a ham-fisted exercise in majority rules, but that's not it at all. The heart of democracy, of self-governance, are processes like this, based upon talking, listening, and thinking. Obedience has no part in it.

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1 comment:

Dan Balan said...


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