Preserving innocence seems to walk a very fine line. I, for one, am all for preserving the innocence of our children, as there is so little time in our lives when we are able to be naive and simply believe in the good of the world. On the other hand, I think that honesty is a necessity in a child’s life. Sometimes, I look back on my formative years, and remember some of what my teachers taught me. I specifically always found historical events such as the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement fascinating. Perhaps it was my naivete, or maybe my rule-following self had no choice but to believe the adults that were before me, but when they told me that “things like this don’t happen anymore,” I believed them.
The truth is, bad things happen every day, and things like the Holocaust and discrimination are constantly occurring. I wish that someone would have told me this harsh truth sooner, coupled with the idea that you can do something about it. It’s not a hopeless world; it’s just a world filled with challenges.
I started a simulation today, which I did the last time I taught fourth grade. In the simulation, I choose specific groups of kids from which to begin removing privileges. This year, I chose the girls to target first, not because they are of the female species, but simply because I knew they were of the personality type that would comply. The experience was meant to emulate the removal of Native Americans from their homes, in a manner that is kid-friendly and relevant to their lives.
I began the day by asking some of the girls, casually during independent work time, to remove all of the items from their desks. They put them in green bins on the side of the room. I gave them no reason as to why, and none of them asked, surprisingly. Afterwards, I walked up to a few of my boys with a proposition.
“I’d like to help you get a bit more organized,” I said. “I think you should use [Karen’s] desk as well, so that you have more room to put your stuff. I think it might keep things a bit neater.”
Interestingly enough, one of my boys declined, but the other responded with joy and thought it was an excellent idea. I began to repeat this process as the morning went on. One boy even mentioned that he felt a bit guilty, but he was still going to take it anyway because he wanted it.
As we continued, I started to take more things away. I’d request chairs, remove desks while they were in specials classes, and even take their iPads to give to other boys. Shockingly enough, a couple of the girls chose to stand for most of the morning, relinquished control of their devices, and did not complain to me… at all. Perhaps they did to their friends a bit, but I certainly did not hear it.
One girl, in particular, left all of her belongings on the floor after her desk was removed. Of course, I told her it was unacceptable to be leaving things on the floor, so she brought them to the back table.
“I’m sorry, that’s my area,” I said, kindly.
“Okay, well can I put it in the book nook?” she asked.
“No, that’s my area, as well. I need that for my stuff,” I replied. “How about you share desks with [Stephanie]?”
She looked annoyed and walked over to the other girl’s desk and put her things in there. Complete compliance.
The girls began to look worried as the day went on. I had them stack all of the boys’ chairs when we packed up, and give up their seats so others could sit down when we combined with other classes. They began to look a bit worn out. At the end of the day, I felt it necessary to talk with them. I took them outside, explained to them that this was all for an activity we’d be doing later in the week, and not to worry, Mr. France was just trying to make this part of a learning experience.
They smiled, relieved, after a day of discrimination, and mentioned that they thought I was acting a bit funnily.
I’m excited for this activity to culminate on Thursday, as, tomorrow, the roles will be reversed, and the girls will be the ones in the position of power. Last time, similarly, the first day was rather boring, as the kids did not really understand what was going on, and many of them simply accepted the privileges I had awarded them. I think the true experience will come tomorrow when the girls are more in control.
What I am predicting will happen is this: The girls will remember how it felt, and they will be so happy that they are the ones on the pedestal that they will be worse than the boys. In all honesty, the boys were not bad at all. They definitely were happy to have the privileges, but they did not, by any means, speak out against it.
This may seem a bit unorthodox, buts kids learn concretely. While they can learn facts, they will never be able to develop a sense of perspective or empathy unless they’ve experienced something similar to it themselves. I want them to know that they are capable of making a change. They are capable of changing the world in the good way, and they are capable of impacting the world in a bad one. I want them to identify with both the victim and the agressor; I want them to know what it feels like to get the short end of the stick, and I want them to see that they are capable of abusing power.
But mostly, I want them to see that we are all people. We may look different than those who lived at the time of Native American relocation, but we are the same and more than capable of repeating those mistakes.