Friday, July 03, 2015

Protecting Everyone

There are no off-limits topics at Woodland Park. The subjects we push underground, only become more glamorous in their mystery, so when the subject arises naturally, we have frank and honest conversations about body parts, babies, sex, violence, race, or whatever comes up in our play. I try to stick to facts and stating my own opinion without judgement. I've learned to stay calm, even when the things said inflame me. The following dialog was really quite light despite the subject matter. We do this all the time, negotiating our agreements with one another. I could have made this an emotionally charged situation, I could have become scold-y, but I'm glad I managed not to. I think we wound up in a good place without anyone feeling ashamed of "mistakes" they may have made while exploring something dark.

This story may also sound sexist in that everyone assumed stereotypical gender roles. I suppose there was some of that, but mostly it was about friends sticking up for friends. The girls had done their own share of scheming against boys and they often played heroic roles both with their girlfriends as well as alongside their boyfriends, and in turn, many of the boys had played the role of being rescued. On this day, however, it happened like this:


One day, a group of boys got outside first. They had been spending a lot of time figuring out their "teams" ("I'm on your team," "Are you on my team?" "Are we bad guys or good guys?") usually eventually settling on everyone being on the same team which is what was happening as I approached.

"What does our team do?"

"We're going to catch the girls, then we're going to kill them."

I know it looks shocking here in print, but it was offered as a kind of joke. I said, keeping an even tone, "I don't think the girls will like that. I don't think anybody wants to get killed."

"We're just going to chase them and pretend to kill them."

"Do you think the girls will like that?"

"Don't tell them."

"We have to tell them. We have to ask them if they want to be caught and killed. Those are our rules."

"Teacher Tom, you'll ruin our trap."

"I don't think they'll like being trapped either. I think I should ask them."

Usually, I send the kids to do their own asking, but most of the girls were still inside, eating a snack together. The kids don't always divide themselves up by gender, but today they had. "Hey," I said, "The boys outside want to know if the girls want to be caught and killed."

They answered, "No!" together.

"I didn't think so. Do you want to pretend to be caught and killed?" 

Only one of them thought that might be a fun game.

"So, I'll tell them you don't want to be caught and killed and only one of you want to pretend to be caught and killed. Do you want to be trapped?"

They answered, emphatically, that they didn't want to be trapped.

As I started toward the door to carry the message back outside, one of the boys at the snack table called out, "I want to protect the girls."

Then another, "Me to, I want to help protect them."

In fact, all of the boys at the snack table agreed they wanted to be on the girl's team and protect them.

When I returned outdoors, the boys were still scheming. I reported what I'd learned: "The girls don't want to be caught and killed and only one of them wants to pretend to be caught and killed. None of them want to get trapped . . . Oh, and you should know that all the other boys have decided they're going to protect the girls."

For a moment we all stood in silence, then one of the boys said, "I want to protect the girls too."

"Me too."

By the time we were done, all the boys agreed they were going to protect the girls.

When the girls came outside, the boys chased the girls chased the boys, wildly, around and around our outdoor space, all flushed and breathing hard, chasing without catching, everyone protecting everyone.

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Nancy said...

Any thoughts on the girls can protect themselves or the girls don't need protection? In other words, while I appreciate everyone protecting everyone, there is still the sentiment that the "weaker sex" needs the benevolent strong male.

Teacher Tom said...

Of course, the girls can take care of themselves and usually do, but in this case, the story played out along stereotypical lines with a group of boys joining them. Had I inserted the idea that "girls don't need protection" into the discussion, I'm quite certain that the girls would have taken me up on that, thereby excluding the boys who wanted, nobly I think, to help them. There is a school of thought that behavior that we often label as aggressive/violent is actually a perversion of an instinct to protect. In some ways, I think this story gives credence to this idea: someone has been threatened with (pretend) trapping and death, and these guys felt an urge to help them defend themselves. I don't think benevolence had anything to do with this, at least as far as the children were concerned. I think they all saw it as an act of friendship.

That said, your point is well taken.

Suzanne said...

I love this story. I think mostly because I can imagine the whole scenario happening even without an adult present. It reminds me of play before everything became so heavily supervised.