Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Imperative To Build Community

A couple times a year, parents show up on a Friday or Saturday to help deep clean and organize the school. My job is to be there to tell people what I think needs to be done, although there are always a handful who show up and say something like, "The cleaning supplies closet has been driving be crazy: that's what I want to do." Far be it from me to stand in the way of a mental health project. Still, most people chose tasks from my list. There's usually a pretty wide window during which folks can arrive and a fairly wide selection of things that need to get done, but the last person to arrive always winds up cleaning the toilets.

Last Spring, the mom with the job said, "I don't even do this at home," then cheerfully set about it. (I know what you're thinking, but before you go there, she hires a housekeeper.)

All the adults said was, "The stuffies go in this basket," then when it was full, "The basket goes under the loft."

I never ask kids to clean up the classroom, but on most days, when it's clean-up time, most of them do. And like the mom who doesn't clean toilets at home, even kids who don't clean up at home pitch in. Even kids who tell me to my face, "I don't clean up," almost always wind up taking on a job in spite of themselves. Yes, there was one boy, one year who would take a book and hide out under the loft for the duration of clean-up time, but he then entered kindergarten reading at an 8th grade level, so it wasn't time misspent and besides, "getting out of the way" is always an option, which is what he did.

This is the link to click if you're looking for my "how to" on classroom clean up, but there's something else that goes on during this time that is more than merely talking informatively with children (what some people call "sportscasting"). It's that thing that makes people who never clean toilets at home, happily scrub them at school.

It took a long time and a lot of effort, but they pulled and tugged and wrestled that basket all the way across the room, together.

My wife, daughter and I have hosted our extended family's Thanksgiving dinner for the past 15 years. Last year was a time of change because we'd moved from a 3500 square foot home to our 1500 square foot apartment in the city. There were about 20 of us so we used the building's party room for our annual potluck and it worked out perfectly. This year, the group swelled to 35, with an influx of "orphans." Accommodating all those bodies meant bringing in extra tables and chairs, both from the backseats of people's cars and from the patio. We never asked for help, but friends and family, in their cocktail party attire, just went to work. And when the party was wrapping up, like magic those extra tables and chairs were returned to their places as if nothing ever happened.

I love few things more than taking part in all-hands-on-deck community projects. Rarely do I work harder than when I'm shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow humans, undertaking a task not for money or glory, but simply because the job needs to get done and we're the folks who showed up to do it. That's what's happening, I think, when a pair of guys team up to carry and table unbidden. That's what it's all about when someone who never cleans her own toilets takes the brush in her hand. That's what's going on when 20 two-year-olds come together to tidy up after a morning of play. It's the biological imperative to build community, and doing things that need to get done, together, is the only way that has ever happened.

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1 comment:

Malia said...

Hi Tom,

Your blog has really inspired me and really influenced the way I interact with my kids in school. This post reminds me of a great book I just read - The starfish and the spider by Ori Brafman. I think you would appreciate it.