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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Legoland: the mirror of life

I am not a teacher, but I am a mother and I live in the society, so I am interested in education as what will make tomorrow's society where I will (for a part of it) live and my children will live.
I guess the Lego experiment was a very good one, and it could also be very helpful to study children's behavior.
I do not believe in interacting with "worldviews" and I do not believe in the right or duty to "instill the values of equality and democracy" from people who would instill "their" "values of equality and democracy".
I still believe in "free will" and in the possibility of every human being to understand and build its own "values of equality and democracy".



"Children absorb political, social, and economic worldviews from an early age. Those worldviews show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings. We believe that educators have a responsibility to pay close attention to the themes, theories, and values that children use to anchor their play. Then we can interact with those worldviews, using play to instill the values of equality and democracy."



Our school-age childcare program — the "Big Kids" — involves 25 children and their families. The children, ages 5 through 9, come to Hilltop after their days in elementary school, arriving around 3:30 and staying until 5:30 or 6:00. Hilltop is located in an affluent Seattle neighborhood, and, with only a few exceptions, the staff and families are white; the families are upper-middle class and socially liberal. Kendra is the lead teacher for the Big Kid program; two additional teachers, Erik and Harmony, staff the program. Ann is the mentor teacher at Hilltop, working closely with teachers to study and plan curriculum from children's play and interactions.

A group of about eight children conceived and launched Legotown. Other children were eager to join the project, but as the city grew — and space and raw materials became more precious — the builders began excluding other children.


Taking the Legos out of the classroom was both a commitment and a risk. We expected that looking frankly at the issues of power and inequity that had shaped Legotown would hold conflict and discomfort for us all. We teachers talked long and hard about the decision. We shared our own perspectives on issues of private ownership, wealth, and limited resources. One teacher described her childhood experience of growing up without much money and her instinctive critical judgments about people who have wealth and financial ease. Another teacher shared her allegiance to the children who had been on the fringes of Legotown, wanting more resources but not sure how to get them without upsetting the power structure. We knew that our personal experiences and beliefs would shape our decision-making and planning for the children, and we wanted to be as aware as we could about them.

We also discussed our beliefs about our role as teachers in raising political issues with young children. We recognized that children are political beings, actively shaping their social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity — whether we interceded or not. We agreed that we want to take part in shaping the children's understandings from a perspective of social justice. So we decided to take the Legos out of the classroom.

We had an initial conversation with the children about our decision. "We're concerned about what was happening in Legotown, with some kids feeling left out and other kids feeling in charge," Kendra explained. "We don't want to rebuild Legotown and go back to how things were. Instead, we want to figure out with you a way to build a Legotown that's fair to all the kids."

This brief exchange raised issues that we would revisit often in the weeks ahead. What is a fair distribution of resources? Does fairness mean that everyone has the same number of pieces? What about special rights: Who might deserve extra resources, and how are those extra resources allotted?

After nearly an hour of passionate exchange, we brought the conversation to a close, reminding the children that we teachers didn't have an answer already figured out about Legotown. We assured them that we were right there with them in this process of getting clearer about what hadn't worked well in Legotown, and understanding how we could create a community of fairness about Legos.

few days after we'd removed the Legos, we turned our attention to the meaning of power. During the boom days of Legotown, we'd suggested to the key Lego players that there was an unequal distribution of power giving rise to conflict and tension. Our suggestions were met with deep resistance. Children denied any explicit or unfair power, making comments like "Some-body's got to be in charge or there would be chaos," and "The little kids ask me because I'm good at Legos." They viewed their power as passive leadership, benignly granted, arising from mastery and long experience with Legos, as well as from their social status in the group.

Now, with Legotown dismantled and the issues of equity and power squarely in front of us, we took up the idea of power and its multiple meanings. We began by inviting the children to draw pictures of power, knowing that when children represent an idea in a range of "languages" or art media, their understandings deepen and expand. "Think about power," said Kendra. "What do you think ‘power' means? What does power look like? Take a few minutes to make a drawing that shows what power is."

As children finished their drawings, we gathered for a meeting to look at the drawings together. The drawings represented a range of understandings of power: a tornado, love spilling over as hearts, forceful and fierce individuals, exclusion, cartoon superheroes, political power.

During our meeting, children gave voice to the thinking behind their drawings.

Marlowe: "If your parents say you have to eat pasta, then that's power."

Lukas: "You can say no."

Carl: "Power is ownership of something."

Drew: "Sometimes I like power and sometimes I don't. I like to be in power because I feel free. Most people like to do it, you can tell people what to do and it feels good."

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