Thursday, December 03, 2015

"I'm Not Going To Move"

The other day I moderated a debate between a pair of three year olds that went more or less like this:

"I'm not going to move."

"I'm not going to move."

"I'm not going to move."

"I'm not going to move."

You get the idea, they went back-and-forth for probably two dozen rounds as I knelt there, occasionally reminding them whose turn it was to talk. It might have sounded to an onlooker that they weren't making progress in this debate over a square foot of carpet space, but looks can be deceiving. They started by arguing their cases fiercely, but with each round the energy dissipated a bit, until, by the end, they were merely mouthing the words as they gradually went back to playing with the toys they held in their hands.

We both want to drive our trains in the same place at the same time.

This is a pair of strong willed kids. Both of whom have had major "success" in their short lives with the tactic of being fierce and immovable. In most cases, especially with adults or older children, they've figured out that being fierce and immovable is a good way to get the other side to relent, at least a little, to concede something, but in this conflict, with pushing and hitting off the table, it was evident that they were both working their way through to the realization that they had each met his match. After a few minutes, they were back to playing side-by-side as if nothing had happened, neither of them having budged an inch.

For me, this is why we come to school: to learn to live in a community with other people, and a huge part of that is getting practice in dealing with conflict. I'm still reeling from having learned two months ago that administrators who were against the Seattle teacher's strike demand to guarantee elementary-aged children a minimum of 30 minutes of recess per day, objected in part with the rationale, When they have longer recesses, they get into fights. How crazy is that? If there's one thing I know about making this world a better place it's that we humans need way more practice in settling disputes without resorting to violence.

Then we figure out a way to make it work for both of us.

Woodland Park is a robustly enrolled school located in a small facility. When we're all together it can be crowded and noisy, just like the city in which we live. There is no way to avoid bumping up against the other people, there is no way to avoid conflict, there is no way to avoid negotiation, and there is no way to avoid learning about our own feelings and the feelings of others, which is the first step in becoming the sort of empathetic humans I wrote about on Monday

It isn't always pretty because at Woodland Park we strive to ensure that there is plenty of time in which to get into "fights." That's because we know that this is the only way practice such vital skills as standing up for ourselves and listening to others. It's how we begin to develop the foresight and self-knowledge that allows us to pick our battles and avoid unnecessary conflict in the first place. And it's how we begin to create the agreements and courtesies that underpin every thriving community.

This may not be the way the real world works, but it's how the world should work. I'm proud that we send children off in to that world with this expectation.

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ljkitty said...

In my experience with adults and children, us strong-willed people really NEED to bump up against other strong willed people in a context of love and support. It's terrifying, especially at a young age, to feel more powerful than everyone around you (especially the adults in charge), and eventually it becomes reassuring when someone stands up to you. Not necessarily in the moment, I mean we all react in normal ways with emotions and push-back and all that, but for those of us with big personalities and even bigger willpower, having someone stand up and match that energy actually helps us feel ourselves in the social space - where we end and another person begins, where our desires meet another's, where we belong, and where others belong and how to make that work without isolating or cutting somebody off. When people yield to you all the time, you don't get that feedback. Thanks TT for keepin it real!

MissFifi said...

Well put.
Recess causes fighting? Please. With how violent our world is getting I think there are other things causing that and it was never playing tag or red rover that did it.

Anonymous said...

It's a good reminder that as a parent I can sometimes be a little too quick to jump in and try to resolve such conflicts.

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