Teaching Social Norms, Part 3


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

82 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    Kazzy, 2 things

    1. This is one of the most awesome series of posts so far. I’ve enjoyed every one of those even if in some way it speaks to a different tradition and culture to my own.*

    2. Has all that contact with libertrians since the positive liberty days rubbed off on you? Because if I weren’t a libertarian, I would think that that is some serious libertarian indoctrination. Of course as a libertarian, I think that teaching others to respect everyone’s autonomy is only right and proper…

    *Although it may surprise everyone that I did attend preschool from ages 3 – 4+ in Houstan. My mom was doing her post-doc specialisation so she brought be along. But that is so long ago that I hardly have any memory of the time.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Murali says:

      +1 on Murali’s first point.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

      Hard to know which is the chicken and which is the egg when it comes to my libertarian leanings and my interaction with PL and associated folks. I’ve always had a personal preference towards just letting people be, though didn’t really know anything about libertarianism until interacting with the PL crowd and others here, at which point I crystalized both my support for certain aspects and my disagreement with others.

      I will say that I toyed with the idea of using a handle along the lines of “Teachertarian”, but thought that was ultimately too narrow. But there is definitely some strong libertarian streaks in my work, though perhaps a strain of “compassionate libertarianism”… I don’t mandate sharing but nor do I eschew it… I simply attempt to point out the benefits of doing so while recognizing its limitations.

      Most of all, thanks for your kind words. Your input on these threads has helped make this series what it is.Report

    • Murali in reply to Murali says:

      Dammnit its HoustonReport

    • North in reply to Murali says:

      On your point #2 I’d disagree. Kazzy’s monitoring of the use of the dogs and intervention if they’re being misused, destroyed or left fallow is poison to libertarianism I’d hazard so it doesn’t strike me as libertarian indoctrination.Report

  2. DRS says:

    Would you show her how she can draw and colour a dog on paper, cut it out (I assume they’re allowed to use those tiny blunt-nosed scissors?) and tape it on a small block to make her own dog? And other farm animals, too – she might like a pink cow and a yellow goat.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to DRS says:

      Oh, heck yes! I won’t necessarily offer it that explicitly, but I might posit that, “Maybe there is something else we can use as a dog.” At some point, someone comes up with that approach, leading to some really fascinating work and learning.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    I want to briefly comment on Murali’s use of the term “indoctrination” in comment #1. Maybe people bristle at, if not outright reject, the notion of schools indoctrinating students. Honestly? Fuck that. Education IS indoctrination. Every thing I do in the classroom communicates a message or a value. Having math four times a week and gym just twice communicates the relative value we place on math education versus physical education. Having the students raise their hands instead of calling out communicates our preferences for communication. Schools indoctrinate. That is what they do.

    The question becomes what they should be indoctrinating. As this series explores, we rely on schools to impart certain norms. But there is a balance that must be struck and most objections to “indoctrination” are not to indoctrination itself, but to what is being indoctrinated. People don’t mind a bunch of the indoctrination that goes on because they agree with it. Very few people object to schools teaching kids not to hit because we generally all agree that kids shouldn’t hit. But when we start to wade into other areas, the ground gets trickier, and some schools do err in indoctrinating values or ideas that perhaps they shouldn’t. But let’s not pretend that indoctrination is a four-letter-word when it comes to observation.

    John Dewey once observed that is is probably not coincidental that the American system churns out people who are largely capitalist while the Soviet system churned out people who were largely communist.Report

    • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      “Schools indoctrinate. That is what they do.”
      … American schools do this a lot more heavily, particularly with social interactions, than say, Japanese schools do.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kim says:

        I wonder at that. Presumably, if I were to stereotype, the indoctrination would be norms about courtesy, respect for elders, stoicism in the face of adversity etc etc. These seem less overtly political than respect others’ autonomy even if the latter is supposed to be more fundamental. Autonomy is politically loaded while courtesy is not. No one calls it indoctrination when it is non loaded stuff.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

          “No one calls it indoctrination when it is non loaded stuff.”

          Exactly. Well said. Much more succinct than my rambling.Report

        • Kim in reply to Murali says:

          I’ll still call it indoctrination. Because it contrasts nicely with “let the kids learn from experience, even if that includes fistfights in the classroom”

          Why does respect for ones elders seem less overtly political to you?Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Kim says:


            By “political”, I assume Murali means an inherent divisiveness to it (strange that we now associate those words, no?). Most people, especially in Singapore, I assume, wouldn’t argue with teaching kids to respect their elders. Just like folks here wouldn’t argue with teaching kids not to hit.Report

        • Dan Miller in reply to Murali says:

          I would disagree–courtesy can be politically loaded. Consider disputes over gender roles, which are definitely tied up in the courtesy debate (for instance, door-holding, check-getting, child-rearing responsibilities, and women serving in combat roles are all pretty clearly part of the same debate).Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

            I’d respond to say that exactly what constitutes courteousness (much like what constitutes respect) can be political, but it is pretty universally accepted that courteousness is preferable to discourteousness, respect to disrespect.Report

            • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

              not really. different cultures. some emphasize disrespect more than others.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

                Hogwash. Show me a culture that actively encourages what it considers to be disrespectful.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

                Israeli culture has a very confrontational style of negotiations. I think we can all agree that shouting and yelling and stalking out of a negotiation is disrespectful.

                Or in a souk, one of the expected tools of bargaining is to disrespect the other person and his wares.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kim says:

                But, the thing is, we DON’T all agree that shouting and yelling is disrespectful. The Israelis apparently don’t think that! There are a number of contexts and situations wherein shouting and yelling is the preferred method of communication. So encouraging such is not encouraging disrespect.

                It is one thing to say, “Here is the way things are done here and how you will be expected to do them.” It is another to say, “Go out of your way to offend and upset people, deliberately so.” Find me a culture that widely does the latter and I’ll send you a dollar.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

                Citing Radcliffe-Brown on jocular relationships being a form of permitted disrespect. If you’re willing to take that at face, then English friendships, where namecalling is considered both acceptable and disrespectful at the same time.

                In fact, in many cultures, respect is saved for people one ought to be polite to (aka people one has not had time to develop close bonds towards, so one takes the extra measure to “be polite”)Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to Kazzy says:

      I’m very happy to see you owning this idea. The preschool Alice attends also pretty much owns this idea; they don’t use the word indoctrination, but their particular usage of the words “instill,” “teach,” “guide,” etc makes it pretty clear they know their job is to help my daughter be the kind of person who can succeed in many different social environments and tasks.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      A very silly man once suggested that the people who bemoan schools indoctrinating children are actually just people who passionately want children to be indoctrinated.Report

  4. Boegiboe says:

    I’m only just catching up with your series, Kazzy, and I have found it very enlightening. It’s really interesting to contrast what I do as a parent with how you help your students. I applaud your handling of the Simon/Calvin trouble, and I’ll say that had I beedn Simon’s parents and his teacher had brought the situation to me as though it were my problem, I’d have been furious. So, good on you.

    My solution to the panties-in-public problem is just to always put shorts or tights under dresses and skirts. I got into that habit during potty training, and haven’t seen a reason to change, at least for school. To me, your assistant teacher’s response, that “little ladies” shouldn’t show their panties, seems vaguely wrong from a teacher, but totally fine from a parent. This is because a parent is going to have more chances and more authority to back up what they mean meant by a “lady” in a way a teacher won’t necessarily.

    This third post makes explicit what was explored in detail in the first two posts (that’s a great way to start a book, if you weren’t already thinking in that direction). You have an approach to teaching social interaction that emphasizes autonomy. I think this is exactly correct. Children are learning not how to be children, but how to be adults. My daughter (3 years old) needs to be taught more about her autonomy outside of the home precisely because of the occasions when I, as a parent, am forced to curtail her autonomy for the few reasons I find compelling.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Boegiboe says:

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Regarding Part 2, I have also learned that there is another practical reason for girls to wear shorts or tights under their skirts: the sand box. I don’t have one, but I imagine sand in the vagina to be very uncomfortable and potentially a real health issue.

      Adults should and must curtail the autonomy of young children, largely because there are certain developmental requirements they lack to fully exercises autonomy. But they, even young ones, can and should be allowed to exercise far more autonomy than they are often allowed to. Rose has shared some really great, insightful thoughts on the attainment of the proper agency to exercise autonomy in children. It is one reason I bristle at the idea of things drastically changing at the magical age of 18. Children/young adults should gradually attain my autonomy as they age because they are gradually attain the ability to properly exercise it. Nothing magical happens at 18.

      And, of course, there is always ways in which adults can manipulate a situation to give children the appearance of full autonomy (which they hugely crave, especially in the 3-6 range) while really only exercising a limited range of autonomy. A great example is with food choices. The severely limited child is given something to eat and expected to eat it whether or not they like it. The unlimited child is free to gorge himself on candy. The semi-limited child is told by an adult that it is important for him to have a healthy lunch, then given two or three options to choose from. Not always possible from a practical standpoint, but a good balance. It also helps them become informed “consumers”, a hugely important skill IMO.Report

      • Boegiboe in reply to Kazzy says:

        We’re sort of a strict food household, at least compared to friends and family. Jason makes dinner, and we give Alice a plate with very small servings of foods we expect her to try. When she’s cleaned her plate, she can request seconds of whatever she wants, or she can wait for us to finish and have dessert. It’s worked well in that she eats (and enjoys) a much wider variety of foods than most other kids her age (e.g. Brussels sprouts are a recent hit), which makes it really fun to take her out to a variety of restaurants or to other folks’ houses. It means, though, that dinners at home are more often quarrelsome than we would like. I dunno, it’s one of the few directions where we saw the parenting advice out there and just said “Nuh-uh, we’re not feeding Alice something different from us.” Any insight to offer?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Boegiboe says:

          First off, let me say that as someone who is not yet a parent (7 weeks!) and whose work with children is confined to the classroom, much of what I argue should be done in the classroom is not what can or should be done at home. I often tell parents that I spend 8 hours a day getting paid to live in a world for children. So if Susie wants to tantrum for 20 minutes, I can let that play out sometimes because I don’t have to worry about getting dinner on the table or getting to work on time. My world is designed to account for the needs of children; yours, as a parent, isn’t, so it is understandable at times when not everything you do will be ideal for a child’s needs.

          To the point at hand, food is a tricky area. Young kids yearn for control over their world, something they often have very little of. As such, they often exhibit hyper control over that which they can, which tends to be two very key areas: food and toileting. Try as you might, there is very little you can do to make a child eat OR make them toilet that wouldn’t rise to the level of abuse. And the more you try, often the more steadfast they become. (A key sign for anxiety in children is a reluctance or refusal to poop; many children never make a BM at school. I should confess (and she’ll kill me if she ever reads this but she doesn’t so I should be safe) that Zazzy won’t poop at work, because of her own anxiety issues.)

          I don’t see anything problematic in your and Jason’s approach as you’ve described it. You balance offering her autonomy (choice of seconds) with your family’s values on developing a healthy and diverse palate. If you were engaging in extended, drawn out food battles, I might advise otherwise, but it doesn’t sound as if that is the case.

          In my classroom, where the school provides the food, I issue “food challenges”. “Today, everyone is expected to eat a protein… here are your protein choices…” or “Your food challenge is to eat a green food. There are 4 green foods available today…” As the year progresses, they might have two or maybe even three food challenges in a day, which probably brings me not too far off from where you are now.

          You should also look at how you communicate to your daughter why you have the expectations you do. “Because I said so” probably won’t do much. “It is daddy’s job to make sure you are healthy and strong. Protein foods help your muscles and brain grow and vegetables give you important vitamins to feel healthy and good,” is typically much more effective. You can then proceed to her flexing her bicep at you as she eats her chicken.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Boegiboe says:

          Hannah’s a lollygagger at the plate.

          I don’t like to rush eating, but she can seriously take an hour to eat a quarter of her dinner. That’s typically not a feasible plan on school nights.

          We’re still working on that one.Report

          • This has been over the last few weeks Alice’s newest strategy for not eating. The only solution so far has been to tell her she can’t get up from the table and have fun until she’s cleaned her plate. One all-out battle–meaning, we did actually both leave the table and enforce her finishing–at the beginning of this week has resulted in much faster eating the rest of the week. YMMV.

            P.S. The liking of the Brussels sprouts appears related to this.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Boegiboe says:

              If the dawlding is just that and not related to a deeper issue (e.g., anxiety, sensory integration), enforce a reasonable time limit. Dinner ends at 7; if she hasn’t finished by then, tough nuts. It might mean a few nights getting less than her fill, but soon hunger will overcome whatever is causing her slowness (control, distraction, stubborness).

              I read an interesting study recently on kids and sprouts. They have different taste receptors than adults. Their penchant for sweets and avoidance of bitter foods is evolutionary: sweet foods tend to be safe to eat while bitter ones less so.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                Let me ask you something I’ve always wondered about — you see more children than I ever will. I have this theory: when kids are acting out, being stubborn or what have you, they seem to get locked into a perverse attention cycle. They’re getting attention but they’re clearly not happy about it. At turns, when I was frustrated with my kids, I’d just say so. Talk it out.

                And I’m not sure it was wise to expose that thinking to my kid, I’d take the third person and talk to her. “I want my child to eat dinner. It’s been an hour and more now. She won’t eat, she’s arguing with me, I’m unhappy, she’s obviously unhappy. What am I supposed to do? Force her to eat? Send her to her room for a time out? Make sure she doesn’t sneak back down here during the night and eat cold cereal like she did the last time I tried that stunt? I’m baffled here.”

                And then I’d say “You didn’t come with an instruction manual, you know. I’m really not sure what I should do in this situation. You think you’re unhappy, kid? I’m not a bit happier than you are, just now. I’m not going to do what my Dad and Mom did to me, spank me for every little thing. Not going there with you. But we are not going round this prickly pear every night over your dinner.”

                I have a few regrets as a parent and that’s a really big one. I should never have pushed that onto my kids.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m not sure I follow. You would say the “You didn’t come with an instruction manual…” thing to your kids? What do you feel you pushed onto your kids by doing so?

                There is a doctor named Ross W. Greene who I saw speak once, where he advocated what he called the “collaborative problem solving” method. His work is primarily with severely difficult children (he coins them “explosive children”), but I think it can be scaled to work with less challenging ones. As I understood it, if reaching an apparent impasse with a child, instead of beating your head against the wall, getting into an endless power struggle, or simply imposing your will (which is increasingly difficult as they get bigger, stronger, and smarter), you reason with them thusly:

                “We’re having this problem here. Your idea of how to solve it doesn’t work for me because of X, Y, and Z. Here is my solution. Will that work for you? No? Okay. Why not? I see. I didn’t realize you felt that way. Clearly my solution won’t work either. Is there a solution we can come up with that addresses my needs as your parent AND your needs?”

                It is a bit touchy-feely and I think he overstates its effectiveness; I imagine if you’ve long butted heads with a child you’d have some walking back to do down the path you are on before successfully getting on another one. But, in a nutshell, it lets your child know that you have feelings, needs, and wants (something many parents are remiss to do for a number of reasons), that you are human, too; it gives them an opportunity to safely and effectively articulate their needs, which they might have previously not been able to do or which the parent might have been unwilling to hear. And it allows you to collaborate on an agreeable solution instead of engaging in a battle of wills.

                More info here: http://www.livesinthebalance.orgReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                Maybe this Ross Greene guy is onto something here. I always felt guilty, stepping away from my role as Dad and just stood there as just a guy who lived in the house.

                The technique was extremely powerful and I didn’t use it often. It more than defused the situation, it was like a mainspring suddenly coming loose. All the petty defiance blew off in a gust of wind. Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it: when Dad stepped down off his pedestal, it wasn’t as if anyone had won the fight.

                My kids grew up fast, a lot faster than my brother’s kids. Once they hit about nine or ten, I gave them each an offer: you can’t tell anyone outside the house I’m doing this, most people wouldn’t understand, they’ll give me all kinds of hell about this. But if you act like an grown-up, I see no reason not to treat you like a grown-up.

                We’re not going to play these idiotic games where you’re supposed to a little kid: I hate nagging you, you hate me nagging you. You have to get up in the morning and go to school but I’m not going to treat you like a hobbledehoy and nag you go to bed. Naturally, if you don’t act like a grown-up I’ll have to prop you up and tell you what to do, but that’s so you know how. I should not have to tell you to do your homework or clean up after yourself. Things I do for myself, you do for yourself, too. We all have to live here.

                It worked, in spades. By the time they were twelve or thirteen, they were so much more mature than their peers, I almost felt guilty. I did feel guilty, truth to tell. Should I have provided more guidance instead of leaving them to pretty much do what they wanted?

                But they seemed to be good kids, they did what was expected of them. They were used to living in two countries and were frighteningly capable of coping with adolescence. They made their own way, often quite manipulative, especially the second and third children, leaders not followers.

                Other parents seemed to have a stronger bond with their kids than mine. But my kids formed extremely tight bonds with each other. I keep thinking mine grew up way too fast. Maybe they didn’t. But I sure wasn’t a regular Dad. I was there for them as infants and toddlers, all day every day. But once they got to nine or ten — well, this entire thread is likely self-indulgent TMI. But I learned how not to fight with my kids, to let them bang up against adulthood as fast as they wanted to hit it.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yeah, there’s a bit of a critical time where kids body’s are saying “don’t eat that!” they get over it, eventually.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Just take the plate off the table. “Time to do dishes.” Make her scrape her plate into the trash can and put it in the sink.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Start calling her “Mike Hargrove”.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Boegiboe says:

          She’s your child. They’re your rules. You’re on the right track, imho. I dealt with quarrelsome child by literally answering every angry question I was asked, as asked. Cuts right down on dumb questions: at some point, quarrelling paid off for her, now it’s her preferred route. Treat every question as a sensible question, soon enough, she’ll come to understand she’s more likely to get her way if she asks reasonably. Which sorta turns them in little salesmen.

          And it’s okay to say “That’s what we do in this family.”Report

  5. zic says:

    A possible interpretation of this scenario; I know this isn’t always the case, but often enough that it merits mention:

    Malcolm is doing something cool. In demanding to ‘share’ the dogs, Jennifer may well be signaling she wants to share the cool stuff Malcolm’s doing, but her understanding of it is that it’s the dogs that make it cool, by having a dog, she’s cool, too. By demanding Malcolm share the dogs, we’re also squelching his cool. I’m groggy this a.m., and not sure how the best way to move that forward is; but the important sharing is ‘this is a cool activity,’ and how can others get in on it, not the sharing of dogs.Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      And I’m groggy a.m., so forgive me for not also saying ‘Awesome.’

      I’ll say it now, AWESOME post, Kazzy.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      Four- and five-year-olds have a limited sense of “cool” in large part because they only recently attained (if they have at all) an understanding that the outside world has perceptions of them. Older 5’s and 6’s could have this as a factor, in which case my response might be something along the lines of:
      “It seems like you are really interested in what Malcolm is doing. [calls Malcolm over] Malcolm, Jennifer really likes what you’re doing in the block area. Either now or when you are done, could you help her learn how to do something cool* like that?” Malcolm likely jumps at the chance to take on such a role and Jennifer gets an opportunity to build (no pun intended) off his “cool” idea and make it her own.

      *I’d only use “cool” if Jennifer described it as such; I try not to be subjective in my assessment of their work. It matters not what I think is cool.Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think the use of ‘cool’ was not so much a measure of worth, but a measure of interest; particularly at that age; shorthand to help the grownups grok.

        But your response for older kids is exactly what I’m talking about; sometimes the sharing that’s good isn’t the sharing of things so much as the sharing of experience. We loose sight of that.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to zic says:


          Your last point is a great one. Sharing knowledge is, to a degree, mandated in my classroom. But that is the social-constructivist in me (a theory, interestingly enough, that recent research indicates is not nearly as effective as it seems, putting me in a bit of a flux… future post forthcoming).Report

  6. Boegiboe says:

    On another thought, I’m curious to hear sometime how you deal with preschoolers’ explorations into manipulating of their friends. As infants they learn how to control their environment and food intake as best they can, and they just expand their knowledge from there. But at some point, empathy starts to creep in. It’s happening to my daughter now. Is that a biological process, or more sophisticated learning, or what?Report

  7. Patrick Cahalan says:

    “You may ask Malcolm for a dog, but he might say no. You may ask to join his game and work together with the dogs, but he might say no to that, too**. You may ask to use the dogs when he is done. You may pretend that one of our other toys is a dog. Or you may change your idea so that it doesn’t require a dog. What you may not do is demand that Malcolm give up something he is currently working with.”

    Along with the “you can’t destroy a thing when you’re using it”, and preventing monopolization, this is pretty much how I handled the kids debating over communal toys.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      That is my theory in a nutshell. How did it work out for you and yours?Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

        There’s a couple of nuances because we don’t have equally-informed actors. Jack is two years older than Hannah and he uses that to his advantage in negotiations.

        We basically have land use rules and property rights rules.

        Each kid is in charge of their room. If they want to be in their room, and they don’t want you to be in there, that’s tough cookies for you. They can abdicate some of that, though; if you invite someone in to play a game, you can’t just up and eject them from the room because you don’t like the way the game is going, or something. Adjudication is occasionally required, here. Also, some communal toys live in each kids’ room. If the kid not in the room wants the communal toy and you don’t want them in your room, you have to cough up the toy, so they can go play with it elsewhere.

        Communal toys are a special case (typically this is the huge set of Lego I got from my nephew). If you’re playing with them, and the other kid wants to play with them, you have to allow it as long as they’re reasonable about what bits they want. The first kid has some entailed claim to the communal toy, though; if Jack is building something using all of the black and grey blocks, and Hannah wants to play with Lego, Jack still has dibs on the black and grey blocks, because that’s his thing.

        Everybody has “special” toys. Just-opened gifts, things that are fragile, or whatever. You get to be dictator over those. Jack’s Lego Ninjago sets qualify, as does Hannah’s dollhouse. If they invite you to play with them, they can withdraw that invitation for whatever reason and you got no gripes.

        There are of course a large collection of things that don’t fit into either of those categories, but they don’t usually fight over that stuff… and if they do, the fight is usually about something else, so focusing on the stuff is just a waste of time anyway.

        My kids actually play really, really well together. Much more harmonious than I was with my elder sister or the younger pair of siblings was with each other. I’m not sure how much of that is nature and how much of that was ground clearance on the base rules.

        We never, ever give in. Tears get you nowhere. Well, they might get you sympathy and discussion and all that, but they don’t get you stuff.Report

        • RTod in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          We tried to square this circle by declaring absolute property rights for whatever each boy owned; at eh same time, we insisted on reciprocal access for things they did not own.

          If an XBox was yours, period, that was fine – so long as you remembered that the TV was mine, period.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to RTod says:

            Oh, I pull that out when necessary.

            The Playstation is mine. That Lego Star Wars game is yours, but the Playstation is mine.

            We had a talk about this when I realized that neither of my controllers had any action left in ’em and I needed to buy a new pair. “Next time we need to replace these, the money is coming out of your allowance, because you are putting most of the wear on these. And you don’t put them away. And you drop them.”Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    When confronted with that sort of contention for toys, I often tried to get the kids to play together in some joint scheme. “You build the farmhouse over there, and the dogs can go on a visit to the farmhouse. And the kids from the farmhouse can go on a visit to the apartment building. Farmers have all sorts of animals, not just dogs, you know.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I tend not to insert myself that forcefully into the problem-solving, though I fully concede the teacher/student dynamic is different than parent/child. I might suggest that maybe there is a way to combine their ideas but leave it to them to come up with it. It helps them develop problem-solving skills, plus they’re way more creative than I and might come up with a far more awesome idea to collaborate than I ever could.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, of course, I wouldn’t order the children to do anything. I did play a great deal with my children and enter into their visions of play.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Dope. Perhaps “forcefully” was too strong a word. You modeled for them some excellent strategies. I didn’t mean to imply you did anything but help them work through something they aren’t inherently prone to work through as effectively.Report

  9. Dan Miller says:

    This is fascinating stuff–as someone with no kids and whose friends mostly haven’t started having kids, I rarely interact with them, so this is a cool peek at a world I don’t usually get to see. Thanks for writing these!Report

  10. James Hanley says:

    No time for in-depth comments today, but just two brief ones, and before I toss my 1 1/2 cents out there, I just want to say that I really enjoy these posts Kazzy. I think they’re an awesome thing to write about and discuss, even though they tend to make me feel really out of my depth. Please continue making this theme an (ir)regular feature.

    . They will get upset, insist that they need a dog for their play
    That is just so natural to little kids. At that age they have such a hard distinguishing between needs and wants, and the ideas they have in their heads are so real and meaningful to them that challenging the kid’s need for a dog is almost like challenging a devout person’s belief in religion–you’re really rocking their world view. I don’t think you have much choice, since the other kid may “need” the dog just as much, so one way or another you have to disappoint one of them. But boy would that be a lot easier if you were dealing with kids just a few years older. I don’t think it’s a social norm that necessarily needs to be absorbed at their age–to some extent they’ll just grow into it as their theory of mind develops, so I’d think maybe you shouldn’t push it when you don’t have to. But obviously given limited resources (you could buy more dogs, but next time it will be some other toy, and you can’t reasonably ensure you always have enough of any random thing that becomes that day’s item of child fixation), you’re going to have to do so. I don’t envy you that task of trying to instill a norm they may not yet be cognitively prepared for.

    … one message is clear, … You share this classroom with many other children, all of whom also have wants and needs, and sometimes that means not getting what you want. It is why we come to preschool: to learn to share our world with others.

    Agnostic god bless your for that, and if there’s a real god I hope she/he/it/they bless you for that as well. Too many of us don’t know how to share our world with others. This is actually one fairly important element of my libertarianess–not everything others do that displeases you ought to be regulated away. The guy who drives down the street with his stereo blasting imposes a cost on me, sure, but my demand that he not be allowed to turn his stereo up imposes a cost on him as well. The lady across the street from me who painted her house bright green imposes a cost on her neighbors, but it’s bearable so let’s not call the police to complain (as her one neighbor actually did); and if the cost is too much to you, move to a neighborhood with CCRs that prevent you from having to put up with anything that displeases you. Live and let live.

    When we were part of the daycare coop, we had one couple who didn’t believe in saying no to their kid because it could damage his will or independence or some such nonsense. So when he pooped his diapers (at age 4 1/2), we weren’t supposed to change him unless he wanted to be changed. If we were taking the kids on a walk and he didn’t want to go, we had to always accede to his wishes. If they needed to go to the grocery store and he didn’t want to leave the house, they wouldn’t go. To my mind they weren’t protecting him from socio-psychological harm, but teaching him to be a tyrant, someone who thinks the world always accedes to his demands, rather than him ever having to accede to anyone else’s wants and needs. I often wonder how that kids first year in a public school kindergarten went. I pity his teacher(s).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

      To your first point, if I implied that I didn’t regard the “deprived” child’s need as real, that was not my intention. That need IS very real. They feel it… intently. Rather than deny their sense of need, I simply seek to impart on them that not every need will go filled. Some classes (mine included) will actually deliberately keep materials scarce to invoke situations like this. My school could afford a half-dozen plastic dogs for each kid. But what good would that do?

      To your second point, I really can’t think of a more important thing we do in early childhood education and which I wish was continually emphasized going forward.

      My headmistress always shares a quote (not sure who originally said it) which I like to steal:

      “Our job is not to prepare the road for the child but the child for the road.”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        And I should add that my cursory read of the theory of mind makes it sound very much like the idea of perspective taking, at least the clinical definition of such. Which typically begins to emerge right around 4 or 5. It is not well-solidified for a while (if at all, for some folks), but an older 5 or a 6 who has zero ability to perspective take will typically raise flags, usually for ASD in my experience.

        It is why 5/6-year-olds often go through a weird stage of being a perfectionist. They are suddenly aware that others have a perception of them that might be different from their own, that others are judging them, that others see them differently then they see themselves. Holy shit, that can be terrifying! Before that, though, they literally assume their perception of the world is everyone’s. It is why peek-a-boo works… they don’t see you so you are, literally, gone. It is also why they might try to feed pizza to their pet rabbit… “I like pizza… why wouldn’t Cottontail?” That is also why having pets for kids that age can be so valuable. Because they can better perceive the difference between themselves and the animal, it is easier to accept that the animals wants/needs/experiences are different from their own. It offers a precursor to the later development of perspective-taking/”theory of mind”.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

          if I implied that I didn’t regard the “deprived” child’s need as real, that was not my intention.

          Oh, no, I didn’t read it that way at all. I was just commenting on how real the need is to the child, and it seemed to me that you saw it that way, too.

          As to Theory of Mind, I’m no expert on it, nor am I an expert in child development. I was thinking that it probably began to develop around the age of the kids you’re working with, but perhaps isn’t well developed in all of them yet, particularly your younger ones. They change and develop so rapidly at that age, don’t they? So damn much happens in those first 6 years that it’s just astounding, and there’s enough variance among kids as to when each new development occurs that things frequently come before you’re expecting them or lag just enough to interfere with your expectations. I found it an awesome time as a parent, and kind of miss it, even though I love the stages my (older) kids are in now, also (it’s really cool when you can really talk to your kids as though they’re adults, and you can stop obscuring things or couching them in “at their level” language).Report

  11. Shazbot5 says:

    Great post Kazzy.

    I have a question or concern, though.

    You see yourself as teaching these very you kids about fairness and property rights (Lockean property rights, really). You want to show them that if little X has found and mixed his labor with the SpiderMan car, then that is his property (in the way his body is his property) and little Y cannot take it without violating X’s rights, the rules of fairness, principles of justice, etc. And you want to show them that you, as a good magistrate, are there to enforce property rights more than give everyone what they want.

    But as you seem to admit somewhere in the comments, kids of this age have very little sense of the other or of justice, or even empathy, I’d say. They are primarily focused and able to conceive of their own needs. (IMO, this is biological in kids.) What they are doing when they are appealing to you and making a complaint about fairness is an attempt to bully by using you as their tool. (I wonder if you’d agree with the libertarians that the poor are bullying the rich in their requests for more redistribution…)

    Indeed, in my -admittedly lesser- experience with kids, it is the strong and aggressive kids who are good at complaining and using the rules and manipulating the referees (adults in this case) to get what they want, not the weak or the anxious little kids, who usually take the bullying.

    All that said, I think what I am saying is that you can’t be teaching the kids anything about justice or property rights or how others should be treated. (They are too young to learn that.) Instead, you are teaching them something more basic and important. You are showing them that you, the teacher, as an arbiter of rules cannot be manipulated to give them what they want. They cannot bend the rules and bully others through legalistic manipulation of the rules.

    That’s a lesson more wealthy people should have learned and that we should enforce in society. If we did, we might have a socialist paradise. 🙂Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot5 says:


      It isn’t that kids can’t understand “fairness”; it is simply that they tend to understand it differently than adults, who themselves do not always agree on what is fair. Children have a very visceral sense of fairness… it is why something not being fair is often a prime objection. One of my favorite activities is to read “The Little Red Hen” and ask the kids what a “fair” ending to the story would be. Some argue that the Hen should be entitled to all the bread/cake because she made it. Others argue that the cat/dog/mouse should get a piece because they really want some. Another group will focus less on fairness and instead on advocating that the Hen share because it is nice. One child, paying careful attention to the drawings, argued that the Hen should share because she was illustrated to have a big round stomach and, since she was fat, it didn’t make sense for her to eat it all.

      To your other point, manipulation of the rules is a tricky thing. Another basic rule I have in class is that when encountering a scenario where there is no clear cut precedence of rights (such as two kids grabbing the same LEGO out of the bin at the same time), I insist that they must work out a solution before anyone can use the piece. Sometimes their solutions violate my own sense of fairness (e.g., Tommy gets it for as long as he wants and if/when he is done, Maria gets it), but if all parties voluntarily agree, I tend to let it go. The exception is when someone has grossly manipulated the situation: no threats of not coming to birthday parties if Tommy doesn’t get his way; no Maria, 11 months older and far more sophisticated than Tommy, talking circles ’round him until he submits.

      I am always curious to watch which kids are the ones to immediately go to adults for support and which are more reluctant to. I’ve never really charted it, but it’d be interesting to see if those kids who grow up amongst populations that tend to be aided by authority seek out its support more often than kids who grow up amongst populations that tend to be marginalized by authority. For instance, in much the same way that poor, urban blacks report crimes to the police in far lower numbers, will poor, urban black kids have seen enough to internalize this same mistrust of the system and thus seek out their teachers? I can’t say whether this is true or not… I just wonder. It’d be fascinating to study.

      What really frustrates me is when the administration sends exactly the opposite message. Johnny throws a punch and loses recess for a week because his dad is a big donor while Jimmy throwing a punch lands him a suspension because his parents aren’t. Not only is it grossly unfair to the children, but it sends some really disturbing messages about how to get their way.

      I am also impervious to crying and I don’t really think kids are cute. So none of that shit works with me. That might change once I have my own though…Report

      • Shazbot5 in reply to Kazzy says:

        I guess when I say they can’t conceive of fairness, that is too strong. Kids are smart. Rather, they haven’t internalized (although this is a matter of degree) that they should feel concern when others are or would be hurt by their actions. They can be given different accounts of what fairness is (pure egalitarianism of outcome, Lockean property rights, etc.) and talk about those concepts in relation to, say, the henny penny story. But they don’t quite conceive or feel why it is they should worry about fairness or be motivated by considerations of fairness in the face of their own wants. It is the normative impact of fairness (no matter what account of fairness or justice that we give, Lockean, Nozickean, egalitarian, or whatever) that they don’t conceive of or “get” (whatever “get” means).

        In regards to your second point, I mean to suggest that what you’d find is that the kids who use physical force, threats of creating social embarrasment, and other means of coercion against the psychologically and physyically weaker and more anxious kids (not necessarily kids from poorer backgrounds) are also more likely to use complaints of fairness as a tool to bully and coerce. But that is a tough empirical question.

        I also mean to suggest that the main lesson you are imparting to them is that the rules are not there as a tool to get what you want. I think they will take a long time to figure out what the rules really are there for (something we still debate here). But all adults (except sociopaths) learn that the rules deserve a fearful respect and maybe even a little reverence and are not just a tool to be manipulated for self-gratification, which is how children, IMO, are disposed to look at the rules until they learn otherwise.

        Maybe I am not making sense, but it sounds like we disagree on very little, so I will leave it at that.Report

  12. Turgid Jacobian says:

    My preschooler is learning about manipulation. He’ll get his (~3yr old) sister to do things by telling her to ask him permission to do them.

    Sadly, also, he’s getting into trouble at school for failure to let other kids work or concentrate. Not sure how to help him choose to be more respectful of the time of others. We certainly try to discuss and model that behavior. So that’s fun.

    Good series of posts, Kazzy. Eagerly await future installments.Report

  13. Maribou says:

    Loved this.

    My instinct is that mandated sharing is not only bullying-by-authority, but also a really good way to teach people not to want to share their own stuff (while expecting others to have to share theirs). This socialist went to a Montessori pre-school where autonomy and respecting what others were already doing in a space were … about the strongest lessons I can remember from that time.

    I’ve never framed it in terms of *property* rights though. After all, as you acknowledge, the toys are a shared communal resource, and you enforce other aspects of that. More like, “rights to the commons” include the right to non-interference with one’s righteous use of that commons….Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Maribou says:

      Yeah, I thought of it as a “rights to the commons” issue, too, by/with entailment of a sort.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

      That’s a great point, Maribou. I am not a political theorist or anything, so I suppose I framed it in regards to property rights because I think of the commons as still being “property” and the use of them to infer a certain amount of rights. When Malcolm has the dogs, for most intents and purposes, they are his dogs.

      But I should say that when it does come to the children’s individual and private property, I am pretty steadfast in defense of that, as well. Generally speaking, I have a prohibition on outside toys in the classroom for a host of reason I won’t go into right now. But, of course, they often find their way into school. Sometimes a child needs it as a transition device, sometimes they just want to show it to a friend or teacher, and sometimes they hope to sneak it in for classroom play. My response is always the same, “That seems very special. What safe place should we store it in… your work box, your cubby, or your pocket?” Should it re-emerge inappropriately, I’ll remind them of the importance of keeping it safe and secured. Should it happen again, I’ll confiscate it, but with a reminder that I will always return it at the end of the day, provided they remember to ask for it. This puts the ultimate responsibility on them to properly care for the item, but also reiterates that as something that belongs to them, I have no right to indefinite detention of it. In really egregious situations, I’ll say that I will return it to their grown up. But I will never refuse to return an item because they are not mine to keep. I can only remove them from the situation if they undermine our work. It really pisses me off when teachers presume otherwise, that they can confiscate and hold indefinitely items that rightfully belong to others, even children.Report

  14. ktward says:

    I’m a parent who is, finally!, done with the heavy lifting of Raising. For better or worse. I’ve also taught early ed, though it’s hardly my sphere of expertise as it is Kazzy’s. All that said, there are literally a hundred different ways I’ve felt I might legitimately weigh into Kazzy’s threads. I’ve seriously toyed with (as in thoughtfully drafted) a few of those ways.

    But bottom line, as long as there are teachers like Kazzy and parents like the folks here, I feel like society is moving in the right direction. My reflections, no matter how thoughtful, aren’t really all that instructive. Delete.

    I will, however, underscore one point: parents and teachers play entirely different roles in terms of child development. The best possible outcome for any child is achieved when the parent/teacher relationship is collaborative, vs. the flawed thinking that either is in some manner an extension of the other.

    Well done, Kazzy. A seriously impressive series.Report

  15. Damon says:

    “My sister reached for one and I knocked her hand away. ”But you have so many!” ”I know. Because I wanted a lot. If I didn’t want all these olives, why would I have explicitly asked for them? Get your own damn olives.” This incident lives on in family infamy as evidence of my callousness, though I like to think of it as evidence of my sister’s disrespect for my personal autonomy.”

    Damn straight! That would be my reaction as well. Those are my olives biatches! Get your own–or ASK nicely rather than assume you can have some of mine for the taking.Report

  16. Oh, I am coming to this so, so late.

    First of all, a massive “1+” to all the comments about how great this series of posts has been. It has been both fascinating in its own right, and also a pleasure to see the ideas of such an obviously intelligent and thoughtful educator. I know I feel moved to say this so often, but as I’ve read what you’ve written over and over I’ve found myself wishing my son had been in your classroom.

    On that rather vague note, I’ve had a very mixed experience with Montessori recently. (I may post about it at some point, but not for a while.) But one of the things I really appreciate about it is that it doesn’t seem to demand sharing, for many of the reasons you elucidate. I agree wholeheartedly with the approach you take.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      Again, I want to say how much I appreciate your and everyone’s kind words, not only about the series but about my approach to teaching. And I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on Montessori. Zazzy and I was actually just talking about Montessori in general, and I mentioned some of our passing conversations about your experiences there. I will say that Montessori’s respect and admiration for the autonomy of individual children is one of its real strengths.Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

        I should tread lightly, since I try to make a point about not posting re: family stuff without clearing it with the Better Half first.

        Suffice it to say, it hasn’t seemed like the right fit for our kid. But even that’s probably too broad a statement, lacking in sufficient nuance. I hate to be so cryptic, and should probably have kept my yap shut until I could actually say something of substance. For now, I’ll leave it at “it didn’t work for us.”Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

          As I’ve said before, my feelings on Montessori are thus: I find it disagreeable but not repugnant, with my main objection being a difference in priorities/emphasis.

          If it is any consolation to your current situation, I will add that Montessori tends to be one of the less flexible philosophies when it comes to adjusting their approach for individual students (a bit of an irony given their emphasis on the individual). There are a number of children who simply don’t mesh with Montessori, through no fault of anyone. Unfortunately, I’ve seen schools attempt to make the case that such incompatibilities are indeed someone’s fault and that blame lies with the student and/or family. Children are different and “not working” at a Montessori generally says little more than that the child’s learning style/personality didn’t align with the school’s teaching style/personality.

          If I can be of any more help, you know where to find me. Otherwise, godspeed…Report