This week we are discussing Chapter 8- But Competition Is Human Nature, Chapter 9- Terrorist Tots, and Chapter 29- You’re Outta Here! Teacher Tom is our guest content expert this week to provide insight and lead our discussion. Visit Teacher Tom’s website to learn more about his work. You can find him on Facebook at TheTeacherTom. Tweet with him Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.
Blog Book Study Contribution from Teacher Tom Hobson
Growing up, children of my generation were told that competition was a healthy thing. Competition was defended as a manifestly good, a character builder, an important part of growing up. It’s how we learned about winning and losing, discipline, teamwork, and a certain type of focused fierceness.
I grew up believing these myths of competition, carrying them well into my adulthood, but my years working with young children has lead me to see that what biologists are increasingly coming to understand about the nature human beings: it is not about “survival of the fittest,” but rather “survival of the most cooperative,” a position that Charles Darwin himself came around to in his later years.
Pica argues that competition is a learned rather than in-born behavior, a position I’ve found to true, especially among the preschoolers I teach. When left to their own devices, when allowed to play freely with their friends, we find that young children are much more likely to engage in cooperative, than competitive play.
Today, most researchers turn a jaundiced eye toward competition for children younger than 10, and especially when adults place an emphasis on winning. Sadly, traditional public schools are still largely trapped by the mythology of competition, creating “educational” environments in which children are increasingly being pitted against one another for grades and test scores. Not only is this unhealthy for young children, but it also runs counter to what we know about the ongoing evolution of the human species.
In chapters 10 and 29, Pica addresses normal childhood fantasy play (particularly weapon play) and the often-grotesque adult overreactions, such as so-called “zero tolerance” policies and expulsion.
As a boy, I played plenty of shoot-em-up and superhero games, and I’ll confess to a very strong personal aversion to real-life weapons, especially guns. At our school the children have always made their own rules, and each year for my first decade or so of teaching, among those rules was “No guns, real or pretend.” People don’t believe me, and I’m sure their parents influenced the kids, but this rule invariably emerged from the children themselves and not only that, they all agreed. Several years ago, we added a class of older children, 5-year-olds, and when the subject of guns came up, they promptly banned real guns, but balked at the subject of pretend guns. When I prompted, “Aren’t you worried someone will be scared?” they answered, “We know the difference,” and they did. As Pica writes, “We impose our adult anxieties about real guns and real violence on them (children) . . . (W)e need to encourage children to “play these things out,” to build fantasies, and to work their concerns and fears into an imaginary life.”
It reminds me of a story from the days when our gun ban was in effect:
One day Cash was standing in our loft with what was clearly a gun he had fashioned from some ½” PVC pipe he had found in the block area. Since he was quietly playing on his own, it was the kind of thing I normally allowed to pass, but one of his classmates noticed, objected, and complained, “Cash has a gun,” so I had to do something.
I said, “That looks like a gun.”
Cash lied, “It’s not.”
This is one of the very real negative side effects of a strict preschool weapons ban — it encourages kids to lie.
I pushed on. “You and your friends made a rule that says ‘No guns in preschool’.
“It’s not a gun.”
“It looks like a gun.”
“It’s a love shooter.”
Giving him credit for quick thinking, I said, “That doesn’t sound so bad. Do you think your friends know it’s a love shooter?”
Cash looked down upon his classmates, “No, they probably think it’s a gun.”
“And they’re probably scared because they think you’re shooting bullets at them.”
Cash answered, “I’ll tell them,” and with that he descended from the loft and went from child-to-child informing them that the PVC construction in his hand wasn’t a gun, it was a love shooter. By the time he was done, he’d collected a team of boys, each with his own PVC love shooter. They marched back into the loft and proceeded to rain love down on a group of girls who were dancing around with their hands over their heads.
I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with one of my co-teachers, proudly watching the scene, enjoying my own magnificent ability to turn violence into love. I said, “Look at them spreading love instead of war.”
She answered, “And the girls are loving it too.”
It must have clicked for both of us at the same moment. Our eyes locked as we shared a look that bespoke horror. We watched in awkward silence as the boys and girls joyfully played a game that looked to us adults like some sort of bizarre, slightly pornographic fertility rite.
She finally broke the silence, “They have no idea, right?”
And I answered, “I hope they get tired of it soon.”
When it comes to children, adults as Pica points out, often see things that aren’t there, be it sex, violence or an objection to eating beets. That’s why I prefer the children making their own rules. They know the difference.
Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapters 8, 9, and 29 and about the commentary that Teacher Tom has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that - Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor
What to read next: Chapters 10- The Myth of the Brain/Body Dichotomy, 14- The Body Matters Too, 15- Reading, Writing, Rithmetic, and Recess, and 16- Why Kids Need Gym (10/12/15).
*If you’re a MN participant seeking training hours, please visit this link to access to requirements.