Monday, April 29, 2019

A Joke We're Playing On The World

Like most preschools, we have child-sized furniture, which is, of course, great for children, while being a bit limiting for adults. Usually, I sit or kneel on the floor, but when I opt for a little chair, I've taken to flipping them around backwards and straddling them. This is especially beneficial when I want to get up close to a table to make art or punch play dough because otherwise my adult knees tend to keep me uncomfortably far away from the table top.

Our snack table is a particularly low one, so if I'm to join the children, I really have no choice but to straddle. I've been doing this for years, and every year kids ask me why I'm sitting backwards, to which I respond with something akin to the above paragraph. Earlier this year, however, I instead responded to a four-year-old by insisting that I was sitting in my chair the proper way. "It's the rest of you who are sitting backwards."

"No, Teacher Tom," they replied, "You're the one sitting backwards."

Naturally, they took it as a joke, the kind I tell by way of letting them know that it's not just their right, but their responsibility to question my authority. It's a game I've been playing with most of them since they were two, so they weren't put off when I feigned earnestness as I continued to argue my obviously flawed assertion.

"Of course, you're supposed to sit in chairs this way. See? I have a place to put my hands so I can pretend to be riding a motorcycle." I grabbed the back of the chair and revved my engine. "Or so I can pretend to be riding a horse." This caused a couple of the kids to immediately turn their own chairs around.

"But, Teacher Tom, you might fall off the back."

"That's why I have this handle," I insisted, grabbing the back of my chair, "So I can hold on."

"You're being silly, Teacher Tom."

"That's a compliment," I answered, "And, you know, you're also supposed to sit on the toilet like this. That way you have a little shelf for your comic books." (With apologies to South Park)

By now, all of the kids had joined me in turning their chairs around, jokingly insisting along with me that this was the "right" way to sit in chairs. This has continued and grown all year long and has now filtered down to even the two-year-olds, a game that often occurs whether I'm there or not. They joke with one another that sitting in the snack chairs the traditional way is "silly." They have taken to improvising other silly ways to sit, like by turning the chairs sideways or by sitting with their backs to the table. Even the children who tend to be more literal are by now in on the joke, or, as I'm coming to understand it, have adopted a new cultural norm. Indeed, on most days, the older kids are far more often straddling their chairs than not. They still know that the rest of the world sits in chairs the conventional way, but here at school, in our place, straddling has become our way of doing it. It's a joke we're playing, together, on the world.

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