Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Protecting Their Hidden Treasure

Without exaggeration, there must be 10,000 of those glass florist marbles scattered about our playground, most of which are buried in the sand pit or lost under layers of wood chips, but it doesn't take much hunting to find them. Typically, I can spy with my trained eye at least one from where ever I happen to be standing, and a kick in the dust usually reveals more. We call them "jewels" or "gems" or "treasures" and at any given moment someone is seeking after them.

Despite their prevalence, they have great value. I find stashes of them hidden in every corner of the place and they frequently go home in pockets only to be shame-facedly returned some days later when discovered by mom or dad complete with an apology to Teacher Tom for having taken something that doesn't belong to them. If one believes economic theorists the fact that they are so plentiful should make them virtually valueless, and indeed that's the theory I've been working on as I "re-seed" the playground on an regular basis, but the laws of supply and demand don't apply to jewels. If there is one object other than our swings over which fights regularly erupt it's these bits of colorful glass.

Not long ago a group of kids were earnestly shoveling wet sand onto what we call the "concrete slide," a slope poured there generations ago for the purpose of erosion control. It's a popular place to play, with children forever running up and down it, experimenting with their bodies in the pull of gravity, rolling things down it, and, with the help of ropes, pulling things up it, not to mention sliding. The damp sand was adhering to the concrete, where the children then smoothed it out with the backs of their shovels until they had covered the surface, or at least that was the plan. Other children were simultaneously attempting to remove the sand, objecting to their classmates project. While some brushed at the sand from the bottom, others carried buckets of water to the top and poured it down, washing away strips of sand that were then quickly covered back up.

There was a lot of bickering, with both sides complaining about the other. It started as a sort of good-natured rivalry, but soon devolved into genuine anger on both sides:

"Stop it! We're trying to put sand on there!"

"We don't want sand on there!"

"We do!"

"We don't!"

"Stop it!"

I'd been watching from a distance, but moved closer as the tensions mounted and even closer when shovels were wielded in a threatening manner. The clean-the-sand-away team was the calmer of the two, probably because it was not their project that was being washed away, but it was nevertheless a classic schoolyard conflict, the sort that erupts almost daily. I had drawn nearer for the purposes of being in position to intervene should violence erupt, but that didn't seem to be in the offing despite the apparent threats.

After several minutes, things were at a logger head, with both sides asserting "We do!" or "We don't!" in an increasingly loud and fierce manner. Perhaps I should have continued to stay out of it, but I thought I had information that might help things along so I said to the kids with the shovels, "I think those kids don't like the sand on there because it makes it too slippery. They're worried they'll fall on the concrete."

There was a moment of silence which I took as a sign that they were thinking about what I'd said, considering their friends and the potential consequences of falling on concrete. And in a way they were.

"We know that, Teacher Tom. That's why we're putting the sand on. We want it to be slippery because we hid our treasure up there and we don't want anyone to get it."

After that was clear, the conflict came to a sudden end as they all became pirates, working together now to completely cover the concrete slide with sand, protecting their bits of glass from imaginary bad guys.

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