Friday, April 05, 2019

Forged In The Furnace Of Conflict

Yesterday, a group of four and five-year-olds were once again bickering over the nature of their relationships with one another. They were going back and forth about who was part of the game and who wasn't. A couple weeks ago, as an aspect of this exploration of relationships and in response to an uptick in exclusionary play, they had all agreed to abide by the rule: "You can't say you can't play." I had suggested that specific way of phrasing it (borrowed from the great Vivian Paley) by way of helping them put words to a concept that they were struggling to articulate, but it had been fully their idea.

As they argued, their newly-minted agreement was evoked by both sides, sometimes in ways that made perfect sense, but often in ways that showed me that some of them were still confused about exactly what it was to which they had agreed. 

Relationships should stand at the center of our school life, because it is only through relationships, through other people, that we can understand the world which is the essence of education. Occasionally, one of the children would appeal to me, but since they were doing exactly the work I expect them to be doing while at school, I turned it back on them, usually by simply repeating what I'd heard one or the other of the children saying, not taking sides, not intervening. Adults often step in during these sorts of intense, but non-violent conflicts, seeking to help the children settle matters, and sometimes they need us, especially when there is an imbalance of power or when children start to gang up on a single child, but most of the time we intervene simply as agents of efficiency as we attempt to rush them through the conflict. But relationships are made of much more than playing harmoniously with one another: getting to the other side of conflict is gratifying, but relationships are usually forged in the furnace of conflict.

Around and around they went, sometimes raising their voices, sometimes offering possible solutions, sometimes accusing one another of bad faith. This was not an interruption of their play, this was their play. They were doing the vital, often hard work of figuring out what it means to have a relationship with other people, one that is negotiated on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis.

Finally, someone suggested, "Hey, I know, you can be our superhero baby!" There was a pause as the parties involved considered it, then collectively sighed their agreement that this was the moment they had all been waiting for. They then returned to their game as they bickered over where their new superhero baby was going to sleep.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the Woodland Park Cooperative School in Seattle, we are currently enrolling for the 2019-20 school year. Click here for information. There are still spots available for 2-5 year olds.

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