I was asked to sub for the morning in a 5th grade classroom whose teacher has been out all week, so I was one in a string of people stepping into their world. Have to feel for those kids. Fifth grade was my main assignment when I was in a self-contained classroom and there are many reasons why I appreciate people that age. They want independence and to think for themselves, even if swayed a great deal by peer opinion.
They’d been on a steady diet of worksheets and math pages, but, during the week, we had held an assembly for peace in memory of the students who have been murdered in public shootings. My verb. I notice the media doesn’t call it murder.
To get outside the classroom this morning, on a chilly rainy day, I invited the fifth graders to form a line to make an “opinion continuum” on the walk under the eaves. I modeled the number line idea: Be at this end if you’re positive, in the middle if you’re neutral, and at the other end if you’re taking a negative position. I had to word the prompt on the fly – I’ve done this with groups taking their position on how they handle conflict — so I asked them to place themselves, on a the scale of how important is peace to them. I qualified it by making it local. In our school, how important is peace to you? [I now think I should have stayed with “world peace” or peace in our nation.”] Find your position by checking in and sharing your reasons for taking a spot on the line. Try out your place with conversations with others around you. Some tried and some just played around.
Of course in any experiment, I got to learn more than they did. Many simply enjoyed getting out in the air and talking. So stretch break/brain break accomplished. Quite a few were clumped at the front of the line, and I tried to get them to sort by who has a stronger reason.
Of course there were students who took to the end with a couple friends, placing themselves by distance — wanting to be separate. In the middle, a few shared their reason for the neutral position was that they thought school was good as it was and they didn’t want quiet.
“Ah hah, you equate “peace” with meaning be quiet!” I clarified for the group and said that peace meant something like being able to be expressive and take care of one another. To be able to work and learn with those around you, but that I think conversations and talking are very important to peace — not quiet. I realized the boys in the middle weren’t really neutral, they were saying there’s not a need for change.
Instead of moving them, for the sake of time and their attention span, I asked for some at the negative end of the line to share why they were there. “I don’t know.” was one challenging response. The girl next to her said, “I don’t care.” I got it. Technically, if they could justify it, this was the neutral position. Except not in tone. It wasn’t a “I can take it or leave it, detachment. I read a hint of defiance mixed with I don’t want to care.
But I realized that many of the student had sorted themselves into an attitude continuum about school in general, and those that agreed with nods with the girl who said, “I don’t care,” could say that because they don’t think anyone cares. So, it’s the tough position. Not caring. Keeping a shell around you.
And I realized that the students who were on the positive quadrant of this continuum not only had strong opinions, but were vested in the idea that we ought to treat one another kindly and let everyone have a voice. They valued what they understood as peace, but maybe it said more about what they care about at school.
Instead of a measure of how important they thought the [somewhat abstract, big idea of] peace was, I saw that I got an opinion continuum of where they were at with school. At the end of a long week, missing their teacher and their routines.
If caring and knowing that others care, if kindness and mutual respect for others is a foundation for peace – in a classroom community, a school, or a neighborhood, I got a snapshot of how a one group of students saw it.
I thanked them for the insights they gave me. I was beginning to understand how difficult it is to view a concept. And to wonder, “Why would it matter to them? Why work for peace?”
Another leader took over the class, and I went back to my intervention post.