Saturday, January 26, 2013

Arguing From Friendship And Integrity

The children make their own classroom rules, one of the first of which is always, "No taking things from other people."

By this point in the year, most of the kids in our 3-5's class, most of time, remember to not just snatch things they want from the hands of their friends. If you watch carefully it's not hard to find evidence of children fighting down the urge in almost every interaction. Most endearing, I think, are those children who reach out for, and even go so far as to longingly touch the object of their heart's desire, but manage, perhaps with all their willpower, to not grab. I believe, and faith is what we rely upon since it's impossible to ever truly know what's in another person's heart, that at least some of it is the result of the practice we've had together so far this year; that these day-to-day acts of self-regulation are evidence that the children both collectively and individually are developing their understanding of fairness, that they are experiencing empathy, that they see themselves reflected in others, that it is truly important to them to live in harmony with their fellow humans.

I know, of course, that much of where we are now emerges from mere habit, from being reminded over and over that, "You and your friends agreed, No taking things from other people." Habit is not the same thing as understanding, but it is the material with which we pave the pathway that leads up to the house of values.

And I do know that for some of the kids, at least part of their self-control is simply that they know they're unlikely to get away with it. The rightful possessor will object, adults will step in to remind everyone of the agreements we've made together, with the result being what you by now know it was to have been all along: you'll get a turn when your friend is finished.

So what we are left with is patience or persuasion. 

We had our toy tools out last week, the ones we use for dramatic play as opposed to actually making or doing things. One of the older boys is particularly fond of a plastic pipe wrench, a one-of-a-kind classroom object. He's made a beeline for it each morning this week, possessing it and not releasing it until clean-up time. Fair enough, although on Thursday, for a brief time, he got busy with something else and let the wrench fall by the wayside long enough for a younger boy to become attached to it.

When this new circumstance became clear to everyone, the younger boy was sitting in a box of blocks, clutching a collection of tools on his lap.

Said the older boy, "Hey, that's my wrench. I want it!" 

The younger boy sat silently.

Trying to be more precise, "That one right there. I was using it."

When the younger boy again didn't respond, he picked up another wrench from the ground and held it out to him, "You can use this one. And I can use that one." Still nothing.

"Hey, you know, you're not even using it. You're just holding it. You're not doing anything."

The younger boy finally responded, "I'm driving a crane."

"What?" He made a show of widening his eyes, affecting an expression of disbelief, gesturing persuasively with his hands, "That's not a crane! You're just sitting on a box with blocks around you. It's just in your imagination."

In the silence, I could hear the younger boy making faint motor sounds from deep in his chest, sounds I assumed where those of a crane.

"It's just in your imagination, you know. You should just give me that wrench because it's mine and it's just your imagination."

It went on like this for several minutes, this attempt to find an argument, or negotiation point, that would sway the crane operator into giving up that wrench. He seemed to think the "it's just your imagination line" was a winner because he kept coming back to it. He offered specified incentives (e.g., "I'll give you $20," "I'll let you see my race car") but to no avail. I was impressed by the younger boy's resistance to persuasion, but even more by the fact that the older boy never once made a threat of any kind, not even to take away his friendship, not even of the "I'll be mad at you" emotional blackmail variety. He pestered the younger boy for sure, but stuck to arguing from a place of friendship and integrity, offering incentives and reason, but not threats.

He didn't get that wrench until much later, but what he achieved was magnificent nevertheless.

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Barbara Zaborowski said...

What?! He refrained from the dreaded "You're not coming to my birthday party!" He didn't even re-word it to the more enticing "If you give it to me, you can come to my birthday party." I'm so impressed with his maturity. Your heart must be singing.

Sharelle Taylor said...

I'm driving a crane. Hehehehehe :)