At Hilltop, however, the teachers strive to make them different. “We recognized that children are political beings, actively shaping their social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity,” write Pelo and Pelojoaquin. “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.”
The root cause of Hilltop’s Lego problem was that, well, the kids were being kids: There were disputes over “cool pieces,” instances of bigger kids bossing around little ones, and so on.
An ordinary person might recognize this as child’s play. But the social theorists at Hilltop saw something else: “The children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive.”
Pelo and Pelojoaquin continue: “As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.”
So they banned the Legos and began their program of re-education. “Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation,” they write.
Instead of practicing phonics or memorizing multiplication tables, the children played a special game: “In the game, the children could experience what they’d not been able to acknowledge in Legotown: When people are shut out of participation in the power structure, they are disenfranchised — and angry, discouraged, and hurt. ... The rules of the game — which mirrored the rules of our capitalist meritocracy — were a setup for winning and losing. ... Our analysis of the game, as teachers, guided our planning for the rest of the investigation into the issues of power, privilege, and authority that spanned the rest of the year.”
After “months of social justice exploration,” the teachers finally agreed it was time to return the Legos to the classroom. That’s because the children at last had bought into the concept that “collectivity is a good thing.” And in Hilltop’s new Lego regime, there would be three immutable laws:
- All structures are public structures. Everyone can use all the Lego structures. But only the builder or people who have her or his permission are allowed to change a structure.
- Lego people can be saved only by a “team” of kids, not by individuals.
- All structures will be standard sizes.
Next thing you know they'll be banning childhood itself. Here's one for you, Misses Pelo and Pelojoaquin.