Sunday, March 4, 2007

Teachers: Never let reality hinder your ideology:

Read this post by Desperate Irish Housewife on the story below:

As they watched their elementary-age students playing with Legos, Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin saw some disturbing trends.

...some kids hoarded the "best" pieces, denied their classmates any access at all to the pretend town they were building, and displayed other undesirable behavior surrounding ownership and the social power it conveys.

So the teachers banned Legos, and worked with the kids to surface the issues raised by the ways they had been using the popular building blocks.

Unfortunately, despite its disapproval of private property rights, Rethinking Schools wants you to pay to see the entire article.

No thanks.

It's not that Rethinking Schools never contributes anything useful to the teaching profession. As my mom often says, "even a stopped clock is right twice a day".

But telling kids that having power is in and of itself evil is unrealistic and irresponsible. Kids should be taught to use power responsibly. Competitiveness and selfishness are part of human nature. They've been around as long as history exists (and even Rethinking Schools can't change that). The thing that allows capitalism to be stable is that human selfishness. Now I'm not advocating that we should all start trampling on each other for the sake of looking out for number one. What I do believe is that we should be teaching young people to use their freedom to create justice. And if one is going to do that, one needs to have power. The powerless cannot do anything to make the world more just. The powerful can.

But people with power are also people with obligations. These teachers could have used the opportunity to teach lessons about how power and responsibility go together. They could have created a realistic simulation in which duty comes with ownership. Maintenance of property, paying bills, property taxes, and so on. Or, they cold have given the kids abusing power a chance to be at the receiving end of an injustice in such a simulation. In short, they could have taught these kids real virtue by teaching them the benefits of sharing voluntarily rather than by force. But instead they showed how little faith they really have in their kids' ability to learn by taking the cop-out and banning the Legos.

As an example of an alternative, DIH points out another school where students went through a simulation of the way the British Empire taxed the American Colonies. The result? An angry letter to King George, and the early stages of revolution. A seizure of power by the oppressed masses. Had the Rethinking Schools gals given their kids some time, those on the receiving ends of any injustice might have fought back. :)

Though they may not publicly admit to it, Pelo and Pelojoaquin probably wouldn't mind if the government did tax everyone's financial power away, and redistributed it, the way they did with the Legos. Apparently, it's O.K. for one or two people to have power over everyone else, if they use it to make sure nobody else can have any. King George would probably agree.

There is a great deal of irony in the the way these teachers are handling power issues in their classrooms. They themselves have power; power, for instance, to deprive kids of Legos. Teachers are guardians of the future. They help to shape society. That is an extremely powerful position, and those of us who have ever found ourselves in it are often in awe of that, and occasionally even overwhelmed. But we do not (and in a way cannot) avoid it, and we use it whether we like it or not. We got that power through use of our brains, through hard work and dare I say, even a little bit of determination, and competitiveness.

We have power because we were able to make the system, with all of its flaws, work in our favor. So many of us want to use our position to "empower" the students who come into our classrooms, so they can do the same.

But we can't do that if we tell them all power is evil.

Edit: A post on similar phenomena.

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