A New Zealand elementary school (School ditches rules and loses bullies ) is making news because it participated in a University experiment that essentially threw out the rulebook for recess and allowed children to make up their own rules during recess. Not only was it successful, but "The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing. " I find it fascinating!
I am reminded of a "position" paper I wrote as a sophomore in college
"Violence is Good?"
An Eagle Boy Scout in High School who has a locked, parked car with a penknife in it gets suspended from school. An eight-year-old boy, tired of writing about rainbows and puppies, writes a story about a tornado coming and destroying a house and killing all the people inside, instead of encouragement for creativity, he gets sent to the school psychologist. I have two friends, James and Justin, who have recently come home from Basic Training in the U. S. Army, and both of them told me that the Army has to spend quite a bit of time teaching young men that it hurts when someone hits you! 19 year old men in the Army have never been in a fist-fight even once in their lives! Zero-Tolerance for Violence in schools hurts children.
Children in school are not allowed to play pretend games involving guns, swords, knives, or other weapons. They cannot even write stories in which violent things occur. Ali Carr-Chellman, in a TEDtalk on using video games in education, shares this dialogue:
“Boy comes home from school, and he says, “I hate writing.”
“Why do you hate writing, son? What’s wrong with writing?”
“Now, I have to write what she tells me to write.”
“Okay, what is she telling you to write?”
“Poems, I have to write poems. And little “moments” in my life. I don’t wanna write that stuff.”
“Well, what do you want to write?”
“I want to write about video games. I want to write about leveling-up. I want to write about this really interesting [video game] world. I want to write about a Tornado that comes into our house and blows all the windows out and ruins all the furniture and kills everybody!!!”
She says, “You tell a teacher that, and they’ll ask you --in all seriousness ‘Should we send this child to the psychologist?’ And the answer is No, he’s just a boy.”
Michael Thompson, who wrote the book, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, rejects this characterization of play;
"There is no such thing as violent play," Thompson told LiveScience. "Violence and aggression are intended to hurt somebody. Play is not intended to hurt somebody. Play, rougher in its themes and rougher physically, is a feature of boyhood in every society on Earth." (Parry, 2009)
Children learn about the world through play. The article, “The Importance of Being Playful” by Elena Bodrova and Deborah J. Leong has some excellent points on this:
“When learning to play games takes its natural course and builds on the foundation of well-developed pretend play, children get an opportunity to both develop and apply their social and self-regulation skills. When pretend play is completely replaced by sports or other organized activities, however, these important foundational skills might not develop fully.”
“Imaginary situations. . . children assign new meanings to the objects and people in
a pretend situation. When children pretend, they focus on an object's abstract properties rather than its concrete attributes. They invent new uses for familiar toys and props when the play scenario calls for it. Sometimes children even describe the missing prop by using words and gestures. In doing so, they become aware of different symbolic systems that will serve them later when they start mastering letters and numbers. . .
Multiple roles. . . When children assume different roles in play scenarios, they learn about real social interactions that they might not have experienced (not just following commands but also issuing them; not only asking for help but also being the one that helps). In addition, they learn about their own actions and emotions by using them "on demand." (I am really OK, but I have to cry because I am playing a baby and the doctor just gave me a shot.) Understanding emotions and developing emotional self-control are crucial for children's social and emotional development. “
So, when children don’t get to “play at violence” they don’t learn to process those social situations.
I asked my dad, some of his friends, and some of my guy friends to think back to their very best friend during childhood. Then I asked them, how did you meet that friend? Every single one of them told me basically the same story! The places they met were varied from home neighborhood, park, school, religious group, or Cub Scouts; but the basic story was that they had a difference of opinion with another child. One story involved booger-flicking, some involved arguments over a certain toy, or a certain girl, and my friend, Mickey, told me, “We met in Cub Scouts and we totally hated each other on sight! I don’t even know why!” The next part is where they all said the same thing: “We had a fist fight! Worked out our differences and we were best friends from then on.” Most of those fights took place on the school playground during recess! And they didn’t get in trouble! The teachers just looked the other way.
Zero-tolerance for violence in schools stops all physical altercations between boys! So, we are preventing our boys from making any friends! Interesting, how most of the school shootings, bombings, and young suicides are done by boys with no friends. . .
I’m not saying that I advocate bullies. Bullying is wrong, however, zero-tolerance for violence doesn’t stop bullies, it just makes them better at subterfuge. Bullies have always, and probably always will exist in our world. Most well-adjusted members of society were bullied by at least one kid in their life, and they learned to deal with it. If children don’t learn how to deal with “mean people” as children and “everyone is always nice and kind and gentle,” what is going to happen when that child is 18 or 19 and encounters a nasty boss? Are they going to know how to handle it?
Zero-Tolerance for education hurts our children by not preparing them for the “Real World;” our boys aren’t making friends, aren’t interested in school, and aren’t learning how to process their experiences.
Bodrova, Elena, and Deborah J. Leong. "The Importance of Being Playful." Educational Leadership April 60.7 (2003): 50-53. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://homepages.nyu.edu/~fm9/Downloads/4/ImportanceofPlayful.pdf>
Carr-Chellman, Ali. "Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to Re-engage Boys in Learning | Video on TED.com." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TEDxPSU, Jan. 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.ted.com/talks/ali_carr_chellman_gaming_to_re_engage_boys_in_learning.html>.
Parry, Wynne. "Battling the Boys: Educators Grapple with Violent Play | LiveScience." Current News on Space, Animals, Technology, Health, Environment, Culture and History | LiveScience 2. N.p., 29 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2011. <http://www.livescience.com/8514-battling-boys-educators-grapple-violent-play.html>.
Thompson, Michael, and Dan Kindlon. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine, 2000. Print.