Friday, October 05, 2012

Debate And Resolution

Rex approached me at the beginning of the day to let me know he planned to propose a new rule: "No going in the shed," referring to where we store our larger outdoor supplies. I suggested he raise his hand at circle time, when new rules are officially considered.

His hand was the first one up when we finally sat down together, "I can see that Rex wants to say something because he's raising his hand."

"No going in the shed outside."

I said, "Rex wants to make a rule, no going in the shed outside. Does anyone think we should go in the shed outside?"

There was a lot of nodding, then someone, I think it was Wyatt, modified the rule to say, "No going in the shed outside unless you're a grown-up." There was a general consensus that we shouldn't be going in the shed outside, which, frankly, bugged me. It seemed they were just all saying what they thought I wanted to hear, so purely for argument's sake, I asked, "Why shouldn't we go in the shed outside?"

Ben answered, "Because there might be sharp saws in there."

"There are sharp saws in there. And hammers and knives and drills. Do you think you'd hurt yourself?"

"No, but other kids might . . . I know! No going in the shed unless you're 10-years-old!"

There was a general murmur of approval followed by loud objections from Rex, which were echoed by a other kids.

I said, "So Ben is suggesting we change the rule to say, No going in the shed unless you're at least 10-years-old."

Ben confirmed, "Yes, that's what I'm saying."

Rex answered, directly at Ben, not me, "No!"

Ben answered Rex, directly, "Yes!"

Both boys were forceful, heated even, going back and forth "No!" "Yes!" "No!" "Yes!" "No!" "Yes!"

I said, raising my voice over theirs, "We're not getting anywhere with this. Rex isn't going to change his mind and Ben isn't going to change his mind." There was a lot more going on than what I'm sharing here, with other kids talking and adults trying to intervene; it was a much more messy democratic process than I'm portraying here. For instance, at some point we diverged into a discussion of what it would mean to make the shed access age 45 and how old our parents are. I'm just trying to illuminate the main thread of our debate.

Ben said, "That's right!"

Rex echoed, "That's right!"

Charlotte said, "We should vote!"

Several children joined her, "Yeah, we should vote!" 

I said, "Charlotte thinks we should vote."

"Yeah, we should vote!" There was still some back and forth, but we seemed to have reached a consensus that we were ready to a vote so I declared, "Okay, we're going to vote on this." I don't know why I did it this way, normally we just raise hands and count, but this time I said, "Rex wants to make a rule that says, No going in the shed unless you're an adult. Ben wants to make a rule that says, No going in the shed unless you're at least 10-years-old. If you vote for Rex's rule sit over there with Rex and if you vote for Ben's rule sit over there." It took a while as there were many clarifications needed, but in the end we sorted ourselves out. There were 14 kids in class yesterday: 7 voted with Ben, 6 voted with Rex, with Finn abstaining ("I don't want to vote.").

"What's a bigger number, 7 or 6?" There was cheering on Ben's side and discontent on Rex's, many of whom seemed be questioning the vote.

Charlotte said, "I think we should vote again."

I said, "I don't think that will change things. We have a lot of people who like one rule and a lot of people who like the other rule." I pointed at our list of rules that we've hung on our wall, "If we're going to make a new rule everybody has to agree. We all agreed to No hitting, No pinching, No pushing and those other rules. We can't really make a new rule about the shed unless everyone agrees to the same rule. It doesn't look like we can do that right now."

I then turned to talk directly at one half the kids, "I have something to say to the people who voted for Rex's rule: Rex's rule might be a good idea, but more people like Ben's rule."

Then I turned to the other side, "And I have something to ask the people who voted for Ben's rule: How many 10-year-olds really come to our school? Everybody here is 4 or 5 or a grown-up. Why do we need a rule about 10-year-olds?"

Ben laughed, "Yeah, there aren't any 10-year-olds here."

From the other side, Charlotte said, "Hey, if there aren't any 10-year-olds then it doesn't matter. We could just have no rule."

Rex said, "We don't even need a rule."

There were a few moments of happy chatter as the kids returned to their usual positions on the blue rug and we went back to our regular circle time activities. And I did so feeling much better about our ability to think for ourselves.

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allie said...

This is a great example of the power of conversation with groups of children, and what happens when teachers and children truly listen to each other! I think this example shows how collaboration between teachers and students is leaps and bounds better than asking children to make the rules for the classroom and writing them all down. There isn't much accomplished if there isn't scaffolding happening.

I have a feeling that this isn't over, either! When they are outside and near that shed, the conversation is bound to come up again!

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