I was in a fourth grade class today and they were having an inquiry concerning some recent developments during recess. Apparently, the teacher took away every sort of ball that is typically used on the playground (soccer balls, footballs, baseballs, kickballs, etc). I recall something similar happening to me in elementary school and I remember it being the worst punishment ever! However, what was different from my experience is that the teacher did not tell them the reasons the athletic balls were no longer available to them. Rather, she asked them to provide the reasons.
Hands immediately shot to the ceiling and students began sharing their perspectives with their peers. The students (29 in all) patiently listened to each other and waited for the “community ball” to come their way so they could also offer reasons for their punishment or build off of the ideas of others. Their keen awareness of the situation exposed their inability to follow the rules of the playground, which is what ultimately caused them to lose these privileges; they were slide tackling each other while playing soccer, playing tackle football, punting the ball over the fence when they lost, arguing about the rules, picking on each other, and not sharing with their classmates. In short, the games were causing them to turn into animals.
The depth of their insights surprised the teacher and me because many of their perspectives were not apparent to the adults in the room. The students quickly identified a laundry list of their inappropriate actions, but it occurred to me that this reflective awareness was not translating into informing their recess actions. I asked the students, “if we know that we should not be doing these things and treating each other this way on the playground, then what are the reasons we are still doing it?” Again, their hands pointed to the sky and what followed were a number of reasons to explain (and, in some instances, justify) their actions:
· They choose not to do the right thing in order to get attention, even if it is negative attention.
· Competition brings out the worst in them.
· They get too caught up in the games they are playing.
· “We don’t always think about our actions.”
· When someone cheats, it causes a chain reaction of bad actions.
At this point, there were only a few minutes left of class, so we were not able to hear all of their ideas (they also began exploring the purpose of recess). If we had more time, this inquiry would have undoubtedly moved into looking beyond the playground and examining why we do things that we know are not right or that we know are bad for us?
This is why the activity of doing philosophy is so powerful; it provides people, especially children, with the tools, the confidence, and opportunities to dive into the examination of their own experiences. That being said, what are the reasons we continue to do things that we know are not “right”? What moves us to act in defiance of our reason?
I am not sure if my explanations will be as honest as these fourth graders, but I do know I am inspired anytime I am around a room full of thinkers, even if recess is the pressing philosophical dilemma of the day.