The other day TH, who has been so proud of his cubby label, decided that he would bring his cubby to sit in during Group Time. It wasn’t long before all of the children had noticed this and decided that they would inhabit their cubbies during group time as well. OS stood up from the carpet and said to me, “I’m going to go get my cubby too!” As they said this, I could see the look in their eyes that was not making a statement, as much as they were asking for permission. For about two seconds I was stuck- I knew that saying “yes” to this would be followed by an immediate exodus from the rug, until everyone was able to bring their cubbies over to sit in during group time. It was a dilemma that could be captured in the essence of What effect does this decision have today and in the future. There is, of course, a whole litany of possible answers to that little quandary, little of which I considered in my two seconds of pause.
Simultaneous to this feeling of fear, I recalled my belief that Children can and should be angentic citizens of their/our world(s) to the extent that they are able. There was nothing about their idea that was inherently harmful or disruptive to our communal process. In truth, this idea would allow for the children to perform work- to retrieve their cubbies before Group Time and to return them to their proper places afterward (with all their clothes etc. inside). An idea that includes work, responsibility, and a shared value is an idea that leads to greater learning.
In the end, I said, “That sounds like a great idea...as long as it helps us be together!” (the last part of this quote is something we talk about a lot when they ask for fidgets, etc. during Group). The children raced excitedly over to their cubbies, brought them back to the rug, and made themselves comfortable. It was a joyful experience.
When I reflect on this story, an important aspect of it is one of power. The children were only allowed to act on their idea because they were given the power to do so, and thus, they were able to learn because they were given the power to do so. What if I had said “No,” and instructed TH to put his away? What message would I have been sending? What value (or lack of) would I have been communicating?
In children’s investigation of power they need the power to act on their world in very concrete ways. Apart from this allowance, the scope of what they can learn is minimized and the confidence, competence, and acceptance they could have experience would instead be unavailable to them. Not only that, without access to the exploration of power, children are left without an avenue to understand it. And they need to understand it.
The necessity of this understanding is outstanding: the marginalization, subjugation, oppression, and/or violence present in our society warrant a robust understanding of power, one in which takes into consideration both past and present perversions of power-wielding. Without an interrogation of this context, children are left to assume the age-old claim that everyone was born with bootstraps and the belief in the homogeneous nature of these tools of ascension. But an investigation of power can challenge these assumptions, and disrupt them.
Instead, the exploration of power happens when a child desires to make an idea manifest, when they become “superheroes,” when they ask for a second cupcake, or when they want to sleep in the room with their parent(s). All of these situations are ripe with opportunities for learning about what it means to be a child, what it means to be a parent, and what it means to be a human. It is within these situations of the monotonous and the mundane that produce an exchange of ideas, power sharing, and not a little negotiation. Not all ideas are safe ideas and not all boundaries are necessary, but learning about power is some of the most important meaning-making children (and everyone else) can do. So, let’s wade into those complex and murky negotiations of power. It is necessary!