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 @TheTeacherTom 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).
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I find it horrifying that more children are being expelled from preschool than all students’ kindergarten through 12th grade. Our center had expelled a few students and it monitoring a few others who have problem behaviors. I don’t feel we should have expelled the students and I don’t think the students who are being monitored need to be asked to leave. I believe it is our job as educators to work with families, therapists, and doctors to find ways to help these children learn.
If we do kick them out where can they go? What happens if they get kicked out again? I agree that we need to stop telling kids they are unworthy of remaining among their peers.
The same day I read these chapters, my daycare kids found sticks and some larger branches in the backyard. One kiddo decided his was a gun. I let him imagine and play for a bit to see what would come next. Overall, he was “shooting” into the trees and not directly at any friends. My biggest fear was that a stick might hurt another friend or he might trip with the stick. I agree with Rae Pica, that this pretend play should be allowed because it’s the way kids work through their fears, anxieties or things they can’t understand because they are so young. I love in the chapter, But Competition is Human Nature, Rae Pica added the idea about having to cooperate and collaborate within families, with a spouse, at work, and within the community. I think these are the most important skills kids need to practice while they are younger and learn more and more as the grow older. In every part of their life they will need to cooperate and collaborate, even in sports where there is competition, usually you have a team you’ll need to work with.
Just finished up chapter 8,9 and 29. As I am sitting here at a hotel in between sport games for my children. Hello eye opener!! Yes when my children win a game we talk about it, we are excited about it, and everyone is happy. Now the reverse side…they loose a game. Nobody is talking, everyone’s head are down. WHY?? the kids played their hearts out, they worked hard together, they just didn’t come home with a Win. Sometimes as parents you forgot how much what you say and when you say things effect your child’s. I know understand and see how I can help my children better themselves by talking with them after any game, win or lose. And how I need to point out what they did get..it was a sweet pass, great job cheering Johnny on…watch for the little things my children do during that game that promotes corporations. As those are the traits I want my children to have growing up.
I do feel a bit torn on the subject of competition, I agree that it can be damaging and yet I personally can’t help feel that it helps to develop willpower when you yourself doesn’t have it at the moment. Yes, you can lose out on the process in some situations, but I feel in others you will lose out period if there isn’t a little bit more incentive. Yet, if a person is still at the “starting gate”, may just give up.
I agree that superheroes shouldn’t be taken completely out of the equation, I remember trying to dress and be like Wonder Woman when I was a little girl. Has anyone thought of being superheroes together against imaginary villains as well as pointing out the good superheroes do besides physical stuff or even go as far as pointing out that police are superheroes by being there for a lost child, etc.
These chapters certainly give you some things to ponder. We don’t allow gun play in center. I don’t however feel that children should be expelled from school for biting a pop tart into a gun shape. That’s a little extreme.
I also think it’s important to strike a balance between competitive play and cooperative play. Children need to learn how to lose gracefully as well as cooperate with others. Some of my favorite memories from our center were Uno competitions designed by the 4 & 5 year olds. They came up with the idea of having a tournament, wrote names on a dry erase board they found and kept track of winning games. This led to conversations about being good sports and encouraging everyone. We also had a couple conversations about fairness and cheating after a child stacked the deck and dealt themselves all the good cards. 🙂
Lots of information and really lots of opinions…As teachers in group care situations we need to be aware of the whole group at the same time trying to meet individuals needs….When do we need to consider group care may not be in the best interest of every child…We have to utilize resources available and work with families to best meet needs of each child-keeping in mind in a room of 20 and there are issues with 1 or 2 that take up 90% of teachers time-what happens to other 18 children?? This is a situation we have never entered into lightly or make quick decisions…Yes we have excused children from our program because we could no longer meet their needs in a large group setting.
As for competition and super hero play…Our Center does not allow for weapons-weapon play…We encourage other types of play and talk about situations that everyone can feel safe in…Fantasy play is fun and imaginative, we talk about real vs pretend.
Competition- yikes! I see this in younger children all the time…I work with 4 and 5 year olds and amount of time spent in this competitive venue versus ‘having fun’ is overwhelming to me.
At our daycare we don’t allow toy gun play or pretend play of the video games since there is so much violence in them. I agree that kids need to learn about healthy competition and how to be good sports. We started playing less competitive games in gym and instead play more cooperative group games. We have noticed less behavior problems when they have to work together as a group.
Its sad society has become so competitive with just about everything we do . If we all could just teach our children its ok to fail its all part of the learning process.
I agree that cooperation is more important than competition. Children need to be monitored while playing acceptable games.