John J. Miller reports on the Hilltop Children's Center's decision to ban Legos.
The teachers themselves have provided a helpful explanation for this. This reads like a joke (its like a Bizarro world "Ayn Rand School for Tots"), but from what I can tell it is quite serious, and is publsihed in "Rethinking Schools Online". The story picks up after the accidental demolition of the class's massive Legotown project and the question of whether to rebuild:
We met as a teaching staff later that day. We saw the decimation of Lego-town as an opportunity to launch a critical evaluation of Legotown and the inequities of private ownership and hierarchical authority on which it was founded. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation. We knew that the examination would have the most impact if it was based in engaged exploration and reflection rather than in lots of talking. We didn't want simply to step in as teachers with a new set of rules about how the children could use Legos, exchanging one set of authoritarian rules with another. Ann suggested removing the Legos from the classroom. This bold decision would demonstrate our discomfort with the issues we saw at play in Legotown. And it posed a challenge to the children: How might we create a "community of fairness" about Legos?
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.
I was relieved to learn that after the students completed their reeducation course they and their comrades were allowed to actually play with the Legos again:
This "practice" round of Lego construction served as a foundation for a full-fledged return of Legos to their front-and-center place in the classroom, but with a new location in the consciousness of the group. In preparation for bringing Legos back, we held several meetings with the children to generate a set of key principles for Lego play. We met with small groups of children over snack or as we walked to and from the park, posing questions like "If you were going to play with Legos, what would be important to you?" "What would be different if we bring the Legos back to the classroom? How could we make it different?" "What could we do if we fall into old habits with the Legos?" From our conversations, several themes emerged.
Collectivity is a good thing:
Personal expression matters:
Shared power is a valued goal:
Moderation and equal access to resources are things to strive for:
As teachers, we were excited by these comments. The children gave voice to the value that collectivity is a solid, energizing way to organize a community — and that it requires power-sharing, equal access to resources, and trust in the other participants. They expressed the need, within collectivity, for personal expression, for being acknowledged as an individual within the group. And finally, they named the deep satisfaction of shared engagement and investment, and the ways in which the participation of many people deepens the experience of membership in community for everyone.
Sounds like we need to put these guys in charge of rebuilding New Orleans!