Rain and a full room of kids (16), some of them new this week, made today's preschool classroom more challenging than usual. The regular teachers knew it was coming. You could hear it when the lead teacher walked the kids through the day's calendar call and response.
"Today is Thursday." Thursday!
"Yesterday was Wednesday." Wednesday!
"Tomorrow is Friday." FRIDAY!!!!
The teachers' voices gave Friday the extra oomph.
With a bunch of new three-year-olds in class, the room has a fresh power imbalance. The younger kids don't know the norms and are more likely to resort to hitting and crying to make up for lack of size and knowing how to get along with others. Many of the kids are coming fresh out of stressful circumstances, and their acting out may be effective in the rest of their lives, so why wouldn't they try it here?
Today, my work focused on avoiding bloodshed, quieting tears without caving into tantrums, and encouraging sharing among kids who didn't see why they should give up anything.
By now, you should see the parallels between my roomful of homeless kids on a rainy day and the last month at the State Capitol.
All morning, I worked with "J," who would go into a rage whenever another child tried to join him at the chalkboard or at play. Whether his impulsiveness came from being selfish, fear or simply a different drumbeat doesn't matter. We have to maintain equilibrium in the class for all the kids' benefits, and each child must learn how to cooperate and deal with conflict.
Eventually, we succeeded at a game where the kids took turns shooting a ball through the hoop of my arms. Despite all my sharing talk and stratagems, the balance finally tilted when "M" gained control of the ball and offered it to "J" instead of taking a shot himself.
Democracy only works if people can see things from two perspectives, how it affects them personally, and how it affects the society as a whole. We have to weigh out those things to make sure that we actually have shared benefits and shared costs, and that the sharing is fair. That won’t happen if we all focus jealously on benefits to other people, or greedily on the benefits to us. It won’t happen unless someone gets people to look up from their kitchen tables to see the bigger picture.
Here, the writer reflects on the newcomer's reaction to supposed ineptness of the town government:
Ineptness and inefficiency bewilder and infuriate them. They’ll root it out PDQ! But they don’t see the relationships and histories that lie behind the public picture — what I like to call “the backside of the knitting.” Passive resistance may well greet their decisive action, but often it’ll have lasting consequences.
Systems in long-evolved equilibrium nearly always lose to incomers who have no stake in the equilibrium. Hence Native America lost to the Anglos and the Spanish, and hence Martha’s Vineyard continues to lose ground to well-heeled new arrivals with their minds bent on improvement.
We put grown-ups in charge of the classroom, because we're supposed to rise above the squabbles and keep focused on the best outcomes for the kids.
It remains to be seen if anyone has that job in St. Paul.