Friday, January 25, 2019

"Houses For People"

I had an agenda. In fact, I've found it's almost impossible to not have some sort of agenda for our preschool days, even if it's just an idea about how the kids will engage, say, the art supplies or sensory table materials. It's okay for adults to have an agenda. The trouble comes when we don't set it aside the moment the children show us their better one.

My agenda was that I thought that after a weekend of marches (Women's, MLK), the kids might enjoy staging marches of their own. I supplied tag board, markers, craft sticks, and masking tape, then as the kids gathered around I explained what I was doing while making a sample sign. Not wanting to force my agenda on them, I didn't talk about what they should do, but rather I talked about what I was doing, offering it as an idea rather than an instruction. "This is my sign for the march. It says, 'More Love.'"

A handful of kids said they wanted to make signs too. These were three-year-olds. A few of them are beginning to form letters, again, not according to my agenda, but their own. Most made scribbles or drew simple pictures, then taped their sticks on the way I had done. Once we had a handful of signs made, I expressed my own agenda again, "Now I'm going to march." Several of the kids said they were going to march too.

We started up the hill, I chanted the way people do at marches, "More love . . . More love . . . More love . . ." The kids joined me, chanting and waving their signs. When we got to the top of the hill, the kids started talking about their signs:

"Mine says my name."

"Mine says, 'I like foxes.'"

"Mine says, 'Stop.'"

So we took turns march up and down the hill, chanting in favor of one another's signs. Other children joined us. One them told us that her sign said, "No hitting," one of the rules to which we have all agreed. Then we started working our way down our list of agreements, marching first against hitting, then against taking things from other people, then against pushing, then against pinching. It was a thrill for me, not just because the kids seemed to have taken my idea and made it their own, but because some of them seemed to be genuinely understanding this important democratic concept: the idea that sometimes we need to take matters into the streets. The boy with the "Stop" sign even acted as a sort of counter protester, meeting us along the way with his command for us to "Stop!" which caused us to pause for a moment before continuing about our business.

We weren't exclusively against things. We staged one march in favor of "More candy," for instance, and another for "More Peace." Actually, I had suggested the slogan "No candy, no peace," as an echo of the standard chant of "No justice, no peace," but the kids thought their idea was better: "More candy, more peace."

It went so well that I made the same materials available for the older kids when they arrive in the afternoon, again role modeling the making of a sign. More of these children are able form letters and others dictated their slogans to adults. Then we marched, chanting our slogans.

At one point as we worked on our signs we began to discuss homelessness, a topic that comes up fairly regularly at our urban school in a city that is home of dozens of tent encampments, one only a couple blocks away. A girl suggested that we march with the chant of "Houses for people." As we marched, she said to me, "We shouldn't just march around the playground." She pointed toward the gate, "We should march out there where people would hear us. Then maybe they would build real houses for people."

They had made it their own. They had made it our own.

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