Education Article - READ

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  1. interesting article from the US that may scare. as a parent i find this worrying to say the least. comments?

    Carl and Oliver,* both 8-year-olds in our after-school program, huddled over piles of Legos. They carefully assembled them to add to a sprawling collection of Lego houses, grocery stores, fish-and-chips stands, fire stations, and coffee shops. They were particularly keen to find and use "cool pieces," the translucent bricks and specialty pieces that complement the standard-issue red, yellow, blue, and green Lego bricks.

    "I'm making an airport and landing strip for my guy's house. He has his own airplane," said Oliver.

    "That's not fair!" said Carl. "That takes too many cool pieces and leaves not enough for me."

    "Well, I can let other people use the landing strip, if they have airplanes," said Oliver. "Then it's fair for me to use more cool pieces, because it's for public use."

    Discussions like the one above led to children collaborating on a massive series of Lego structures we named Legotown. Children dug through hefty-sized bins of Legos, sought "cool pieces," and bartered and exchanged until they established a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places. We carefully protected Legotown from errant balls and jump ropes, and watched it grow day by day.

    After nearly two months of observing the children's Legotown construction, we decided to ban the Legos.

    The Investigation Begins
    Our school-age childcare program — the "Big Kids" — involves 25 children and their families. The children, ages 5 through 9, come to Hilltop after their days in elementary school, arriving around 3:30 and staying until 5:30 or 6:00. Hilltop is located in an affluent Seattle neighborhood, and, with only a few exceptions, the staff and families are white; the families are upper-middle class and socially liberal. Kendra is the lead teacher for the Big Kid program; two additional teachers, Erik and Harmony, staff the program. Ann is the mentor teacher at Hilltop, working closely with teachers to study and plan curriculum from children's play and interactions.

    A group of about eight children conceived and launched Legotown. Other children were eager to join the project, but as the city grew — and space and raw materials became more precious — the builders began excluding other children.

    Occasionally, Legotown leaders explicitly rebuffed children, telling them that they couldn't play. Typically the exclusion was more subtle, growing from a climate in which Legotown was seen as the turf of particular kids. The other children didn't complain much about this; when asked about Legos, they'd often comment vaguely that they just weren't interested in playing with Legos anymore. As they closed doors to other children, the Legotown builders turned their attention to complex negotiations among themselves about what sorts of structures to build, whether these ought to be primarily privately owned or collectively used, and how "cool pieces" would be distributed and protected. These negotiations gave rise to heated conflict and to insightful conversation. Into their coffee shops and houses, 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. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

    Then, tragedy struck Legotown and we saw an opportunity to take strong action.

    Hilltop is housed in a church, and over a long weekend, some children in the congregation who were playing in our space accidentally demolished Legotown.

    When the children discovered the decimated Legotown, they reacted with shock and grief. Children moaned and fell to their knees to inspect the damage; many were near tears. The builders were devastated, and the other children were deeply sympathetic. We gathered as a full group to talk about what had happened; at one point in the conversation, Kendra suggested a big cleanup of the loose Legos on the floor. The Legotown builders were fierce in their opposition. They explained that particular children "owned" those pieces and it would be unfair to put them back in the bins where other children might use them. As we talked, the issues of ownership and power that had been hidden became explicit to the whole group.

    We met as a teaching staff later that day. We saw the decimation of Lego-town as an opportunity to launch a critical evaluation of Legotown and the inequities of private ownership and hierarchical authority on which it was founded. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation. We knew that the examination would have the most impact if it was based in engaged exploration and reflection rather than in lots of talking. We didn't want simply to step in as teachers with a new set of rules about how the children could use Legos, exchanging one set of authoritarian rules with another. Ann suggested removing the Legos from the classroom. This bold decision would demonstrate our discomfort with the issues we saw at play in Legotown. And it posed a challenge to the children: How might we create a "community of fairness" about Legos?

    Out with the Legos
    Taking the Legos out of the classroom was both a commitment and a risk. We expected that looking frankly at the issues of power and inequity that had shaped Legotown would hold conflict and discomfort for us all. We teachers talked long and hard about the decision. We shared our own perspectives on issues of private ownership, wealth, and limited resources. One teacher described her childhood experience of growing up without much money and her instinctive critical judgments about people who have wealth and financial ease. Another teacher shared her allegiance to the children who had been on the fringes of Legotown, wanting more resources but not sure how to get them without upsetting the power structure. We knew that our personal experiences and beliefs would shape our decision-making and planning for the children, and we wanted to be as aware as we could about them.

    We also discussed our beliefs about our role as teachers in raising political issues with young children. We recognized that children are political beings, actively shaping their social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity — whether we interceded or not. 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.

    We had an initial conversation with the children about our decision. "We're concerned about what was happening in Legotown, with some kids feeling left out and other kids feeling in charge," Kendra explained. "We don't want to rebuild Legotown and go back to how things were. Instead, we want to figure out with you a way to build a Legotown that's fair to all the kids."

    Naturally the children had big feelings and strong opinions to share. During that first day's discussion, they laid out the big issues that we would pursue over the months to come.

    Several times in the discussion, children made reference to "giving" Lego pieces to other children. Kendra pointed out the understanding behind this language: "When you say that some kids ‘gave' pieces to other kids, that sounds like there are some kids who have most of the power in Legotown — power to decide what pieces kids can use and where they can build." Kendra's comment sparked an outcry by Lukas and Carl, two central figures in Legotown:

    Carl: "We didn't ‘give' the pieces, we found and shared them."

    Lukas: "It's like giving to charity."

    Carl: "I don't agree with using words like ‘gave.' Because when someone wants to move in, we find them a platform and bricks and we build them a house and find them windows and a door."

    These children seemed to squirm at the implications of privilege, wealth, and power that "giving" holds. The children denied their power, framing it as benign and neutral, not something actively sought out and maintained. This early conversation helped us see more clearly the children's contradictory thinking about power and authority, laying the groundwork for later exploration.

    Issues of fairness and equity also bubbled to the surface during the animated discussion about the removal of the Legos:

    Lukas: "I think every house should be average, and not over-average like Drew's, which is huge."

    Aidan: "But Drew is special."

    Drew: "I'm the fire station, so I have to have room for four people."

    Lukas: "I think that houses should only be as big as 16 bumps one way, and 16 bumps the other way. That would be fair." ["Bumps" are the small circles on top of Lego bricks.]

    This brief exchange raised issues that we would revisit often in the weeks ahead. What is a fair distribution of resources? Does fairness mean that everyone has the same number of pieces? What about special rights: Who might deserve extra resources, and how are those extra resources allotted?

    After nearly an hour of passionate exchange, we brought the conversation to a close, reminding the children that we teachers didn't have an answer already figured out about Legotown. We assured them that we were right there with them in this process of getting clearer about what hadn't worked well in Legotown, and understanding how we could create a community of fairness about Legos.

    We'd audiotaped the discussion so that we'd be able to revisit it during our weekly teaching team meeting to tease out important themes and threads. The children's thoughts, questions, and tensions would guide us as we planned our next steps. We weren't working from carefully sequenced lessons on ownership, resource sharing, and equity. Instead, we committed to growing an investigation into these issues, one step at a time. Our planning was guided by our goals for social justice learning, and by the pedagogy our school embraces, inspired by schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. In this approach, teachers offer children a provocation and listen carefully to the children's responses. These responses help teachers plan the next provocation to challenge or expand the children's theories, questions, and cognitive challenges.

    What Does Power Look Like?
    A few days after we'd removed the Legos, we turned our attention to the meaning of power. During the boom days of Legotown, we'd suggested to the key Lego players that there was an unequal distribution of power giving rise to conflict and tension. Our suggestions were met with deep resistance. Children denied any explicit or unfair power, making comments like "Some-body's got to be in charge or there would be chaos," and "The little kids ask me because I'm good at Legos." They viewed their power as passive leadership, benignly granted, arising from mastery and long experience with Legos, as well as from their social status in the group.

    Now, with Legotown dismantled and the issues of equity and power squarely in front of us, we took up the idea of power and its multiple meanings. We began by inviting the children to draw pictures of power, knowing that when children represent an idea in a range of "languages" or art media, their understandings deepen and expand. "Think about power," said Kendra. "What do you think ‘power' means? What does power look like? Take a few minutes to make a drawing that shows what power is."

    As children finished their drawings, we gathered for a meeting to look at the drawings together. The drawings represented a range of understandings of power: a tornado, love spilling over as hearts, forceful and fierce individuals, exclusion, cartoon superheroes, political power.

    During our meeting, children gave voice to the thinking behind their drawings.

    Marlowe: "If your parents say you have to eat pasta, then that's power."

    Lukas: "You can say no."

    Carl: "Power is ownership of something."

    Drew: "Sometimes I like power and sometimes I don't. I like to be in power because I feel free. Most people like to do it, you can tell people what to do and it feels good."

    Drew's comment startled us with its raw truth. He was a member of the Legotown inner circle, and had been quite resistant to acknowledging the power he held in that role. During this discussion, though, he laid his cards on the table. Would Drew's insight break open new understandings among the other members of the inner circle?

    To build on Drew's breakthrough comment about the pleasure and unease that comes with wielding power, and to highlight the experience of those who are excluded from power, we designed a Lego trading game with built-in inequities. We developed a point system for Legos, then skewed the system so that it would be quite hard to get lots of points. And we established just one rule: Get as many points as possible. The person with the most points would create the rules for the rest of the game. Our intention was to create a situation in which a few children would receive unearned power from sheer good luck in choosing Lego bricks with high point values, and then would wield that power with their peers. We hoped that the game would be removed enough from the particulars and personalities of Legotown that we could look at the central Legotown issues from a fresh perspective.

    This was a simple game about complicated issues.

    We introduced the Lego trading game to the children by passing a bin of Legos around the circle, asking each child to choose 10 Legos; we didn't say anything about point values or how we'd use the bricks. Most children chose a mix of colored Lego bricks, though a few chose 10 of one color. Liam took all eight green Legos, explaining that green is his favorite color; this seemingly straightforward choice altered the outcome of the game.

    When everyone had their Legos, the teachers announced that each color had a point value: The more common the brick color, the fewer the points it was worth, while the scarcest brick color, green, was worth a whopping five points.

    Right away, there were big reactions.

    Liam: "I have all the green! I have 40 points because I have all the green!"

    Drew: "This isn't fair! Liam won't trade any green, I bet, so what's the point? What if you just want to quit?"

    Carl: "I don't want to play this game. I'll just wait for Liam to give me a green. If he doesn't, it's hopeless."

    We didn't linger with the children's reactions, but carried on with the game, explaining that the object of the game was to trade Lego pieces in an effort to get the most points. Kids immediately began to calculate how they'd trade their pieces, and dove into trading. Several children shadowed Liam, pleading with him to give them a green — but he refused.

    After a few minutes of trading, we rang a bell and children added up their scores. Liam and Kyla had scores that far out-totaled those of the other children. Kendra asked them each to create a rule, explaining that we'd play another round of the game, following the new rules and aiming for the same goal: to get the most points possible.

    We expected that the winners would make rules to ensure that they would win the next round — for instance, "All greens are worth 50 points," or, "You can only win if your name starts with a K." We were surprised at what happened.

    Liam instituted this rule: "You have to trade at least one piece. That's a good rule because if you have a high score at the beginning, you wouldn't have to trade, and that's not fair."

    Kyla added this rule to the game: "If you have more than one green, you have to trade one of them."

    With these new rules on the books, we held a second short round of trading, then rang the bell and added up points. Liam, Kyla, and Lukas won this round. The three winners grinned at each other as we gathered in a circle to debrief the game. Before we could launch a conversation as teachers, the children's raw emotion carried us into a passionate exchange.

    Drew: "Liam, you don't have to brag in people's faces."

    Carl: "The winner would stomp his feet and go ‘Yes' in the face of people. It felt kind of mean."

    Liam: "I was happy! I wasn't trying to stomp in people's faces."

    Carl: "I don't like that winners make new rules. People make rules that are only in their advantage. They could have written it simpler that said, ‘Only I win.'"

    Juliet: "Because they wanted to win and make other people feel bad."

    Kyla: "I wasn't trying to make other people feel bad. I felt bad when people felt bad, so I tried to make a rule that would make them feel better. It was fun to make up the rule — like a treat, to be one of only three people out of the whole group."

    When the teaching staff met to reflect on the Lego trading game, we were struck by the ways the children had come face-to-face with the frustration, anger, and hopelessness that come with being on the outside of power and privilege. During the trading game, a couple of children simply gave up, while others waited passively for someone to give them valuable pieces. Drew said, "I stopped trading because the same people were winning. I just gave up." 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.

    To make sense of the sting of this disenfranchisement, most of the children cast Liam and Kyla as "mean," trying to "make people feel bad." They were unable or unwilling to see that the rules of the game — which mirrored the rules of our capitalist meritocracy — were a setup for winning and losing. Playing by the rules led to a few folks winning big and most folks falling further and further behind. The game created a classic case of cognitive disequilibrium: Either the system is skewed and unfair, or the winners played unfairly. To resolve this by deciding that the system is unfair would call everything into question; young children are committed to rules and rule-making as a way to organize a community, and it is wildly unsettling to acknowledge that rules can have built-in inequities. So most of the children resolved their disequilibrium by clinging to the belief that the winners were ruthless — despite clear evidence of Liam and Kyla's compassionate generosity.

    In Legotown, the children had constructed a social system of power where a few people made the important decisions and the rest of the participants did the grunt work — much like the system in the trading game. We wanted children to critique the system at work in Legotown, not to critique the children at the top of the Legotown hierarchy. At the same time, we wanted them to see that the Legotown system was created by people, and, as such, could be challenged and reformulated. The children's reaction to the winners of the trading game was a big warning flag for us: We clearly had some repair work to do around relationships, as well as some overt teaching about systemic fallibility. The Lego trading game presented core issues that would be our focus for the months to come. 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.

    Rules and Ownership
    In the weeks after the trading game, we explored questions about how rules are made and enforced, and when they ought to be followed or broken. We aimed to help children see that all rules (including social structures and systems) are made by people with particular perspectives, interests, and experiences that shape their rule-making. And we wanted to encourage them to consider that there are times when rules ought to be questioned or even broken — sharing stories of people who refused to "play by the rules" when the rules were unjust, people like Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.

    We added another thread to our investigation of power, as well, by turning our attention to issues related to ownership. In Legotown, the builders "owned" sections of Legotown and protected them fiercely from encroachment. We were curious to explore with the children their beliefs about how ownership happens: How does a person come to own something? How is ownership maintained or transferred? Are there situations in which ownership ought to be challenged or denied? What are the distinctions between private and public ownership?

    We looked at ownership through several lenses. With the children, we created an "ownership museum," where children displayed possessions they brought from home — a Gameboy, a special blanket, a bike helmet, a baseball card, jewelry, dolls — and described how they came to own them. And we visited Pike Place Market, the farmers and artisans market in downtown Seattle, and asked questions to provoke kids to think about ownership: Does a farmer own her produce? Or does the consumer own it?

    In their reflections, the children articulated several shared theories about how ownership is conferred.

    If I buy it, I own it:
    Sophia: "She owns the lavender balls because she makes them, but if I buy it, then it's mine."

    If I receive it as a gift, I own it:
    Marlowe: "My mom bought this book for me because she thought it would be a good reading book for me. I know I own it because my mom bought it and she's my mom and she gave it to me."

    If I make it myself, I own it:
    Sophie: "I sewed this pillow myself with things that my teacher gave me, like stuffing and fabric. I sewed it and it turned into my pillow because it's something I made instead of something I got at the store."

    If it has my name on it, I own it:
    Alex: "My teacher made this pillow for me and it has my name on it."

    Kendra: "If I put my name on it, would I own it?"

    Alex: "Well, Miss S. made it for me... but if your name was on it, then you would own it."

    Sophie: "Kendra, don't put your name on it, OK?"

    If I own it, I make the rules about it:
    Alejandro: "I own this computer, because my grandpa gave it to me. I lend it to my friends so that they can play with it. But I make the rules about it."

    The Return of the Legos
    Throughout the investigation, the staff continued to meet weekly to study our notes about the activities we took up with the children, watching for moments when children identified contradictions in their own thinking, took on new perspectives, or questioned their own assumptions. In late spring, we decided it was time to challenge the children to wrestle their theoretical understandings into practical shape and apply their analysis of individual and collective ownership to a concrete project. After five months of naming and investigating the issues of power, rules, ownership, and authority, we were ready to reconstruct Legotown in a new way.

    We invited the children to work in small, collaborative teams to build Pike Place Market with Legos. We set up this work to emphasize negotiated decision-making, collaboration, and collectivity. We wanted the children to practice the big ideas we'd been exploring. We wanted Lego Pike Place Market to be an experience of group effort and shared ownership: If Legotown was an embodiment of individualism, Lego Pike Place Market would be an experiment in collectivity and consensus.

    We offered the children some guidelines to steer them into a new way of interacting with each other and with the Legos: "Create teams of two or three people, decide as a team on some element of Pike Place Market that you'll build, and then start constructing." The first day or two, children created signs warning the other teams "Do Not Touch" their collaboratively constructed vegetable, fruit, and crafts stands. As they settled into this construction project, though, the teams softened the rigid boundaries around their work and began to leave notes for each other describing their work and proposing next steps for Pike Place Market. We celebrated this shift, seeing it as a sign that the children were beginning to integrate the thinking of the last months into their interactions.

    A New Ethics for Legotown
    This "practice" round of Lego construction served as a foundation for a full-fledged return of Legos to their front-and-center place in the classroom, but with a new location in the consciousness of the group. In preparation for bringing Legos back, we held several meetings with the children to generate a set of key principles for Lego play. We met with small groups of children over snack or as we walked to and from the park, posing questions like "If you were going to play with Legos, what would be important to you?" "What would be different if we bring the Legos back to the classroom? How could we make it different?" "What could we do if we fall into old habits with the Legos?" From our conversations, several themes emerged.

    Collectivity is a good thing:
    "You get to build and you have a lot of fun and people get to build onto your structure with you, and it doesn't have to be the same way as when you left it.... A house is good because it is a community house."

    Personal expression matters:
    "It's important that the little Lego plastic person has some identity. Lego houses might be all the same except for the people. A kid should have their own Lego character to live in the house so it makes the house different."

    Shared power is a valued goal:
    "It's important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building. And it's important to have the same priorities."

    "Before, it was the older kids who had the power because they used Legos most. Little kids have more rights now than they used to and older kids have half the rights."

    Moderation and equal access to resources are things to strive for:
    "We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes.... We should all just have the same number of pieces, like 15 or 28 pieces."

    As teachers, we were excited by these comments. The children gave voice to the value that collectivity is a solid, energizing way to organize a community — and that it requires power-sharing, equal access to resources, and trust in the other participants. They expressed the need, within collectivity, for personal expression, for being acknowledged as an individual within the group. And finally, they named the deep satisfaction of shared engagement and investment, and the ways in which the participation of many people deepens the experience of membership in community for everyone.

    From this framework, the children made a number of specific proposals for rules about Legos, engaged in some collegial debate about those proposals, and worked through their differing suggestions until they reached consensus about three core agreements:

    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.

    With these three agreements — which distilled months of social justice exploration into a few simple tenets of community use of resources — we returned the Legos to their place of honor in the classroom.

    Children absorb political, social, and economic worldviews from an early age. Those worldviews show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings. We believe that educators have a responsibility to pay close attention to the themes, theories, and values that children use to anchor their play. Then we can interact with those worldviews, using play to instill the values of equality and democracy.
     
  2.  
  3. yes....and?

    What is the point you are making by posting this?

    (genuine question)
     
  4. Shows what greedy little bast@rds most kids are whilst still growing.
     
  5. Thanks for wasting five minutes of my life.
     
  6. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz z zzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz zzzzz zzzzz z z z z z z z z huh whathafuh! hmm sorry you lost me for a minute there! How incredibly interesting!
     
  7. WTF. Totally bone.

    Take it to uni not ARRSE
     
  8. B_AND_T

    B_AND_T LE Book Reviewer

    Billy. You say your a parent!!

    What scares me is that you were allowed to breed.
     
  9. i can only asumme that none of you have kids or this kind of commie toying with there FUTURES would shock you. i'll try and dig out some more from the same source. might clarify things for you

    Bill A
     
  10. I think it shows the dangers of analysing children at too early an age.
     
  11. B_AND_T

    B_AND_T LE Book Reviewer

    Please don't.
     
  12. BW, why are you worried by this story?

    More to the point, why did you feel the need to share your concern over this bolllocks?
     
  13. I was right not to bother reading then?
     
  14. My first teacher at primary school, Miss Eccles faced a similar problem.

    "You must share the Lego, children, and not be selfish. If you are, I shall stop you from playing with the others until you learn to be nice."

    And that worked. If only she'd realised that she could've grossly over-complicated the process, held team meetings to discuss the problem of six-year olds behaving like six year olds and then published a journal article that'd have enhanced her career...
     
  15. well how about this (concerns iraq):

    Almost all my high school students can recite the singsong rhyme,

    In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
    Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    Most of them—and most of you—can name Columbus' ships, the Pinta, Niña, and Santa Maria. But since I began teaching in 1978, I've never had a student who could name the nationality of the people he encountered: the Taínos.

    This fact hints at how the traditional Columbus myth, and much of the curriculum that follows in its wake, has conditioned children to accept without question imperial adventures like the Iraq war.

    For many children, the meeting of Columbus and the Taínos is the first time in the formal curriculum they learn about the contact between different cultures—often as early as October of kindergarten year, around Columbus Day. In fact, it's children's first in-school exposure to the contact between different nations—to foreign policy.

    From their earliest days in school, students are taught to identify with white Europeans: the explorers, discoverers, and conquerors. The people Columbus "discovers" are incidental to the main tale of heroism—there, but not there. With few exceptions, children's books describe the arrival of Columbus in remarkably similar ways. Here's a typical passage, from A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus: "Christopher Columbus and his men rowed ashore. He planted a flag in the sand and claimed the island for Spain. He named it San Salvador."

    Missing from this crisp description is a basic question: What right did Columbus have to claim someone else's territory in the name of a far away empire? The book acknowledges that there were "natives" living there, so why couldn't these natives keep their land? Why couldn't the land be called what it had been called by its inhabitants for perhaps hundreds of years: Guanahani?

    This celebration of colonial conquest is at the heart of the Columbus myth. Children learn that global inequality is a fact of life. The world is divided in two: the discoverers and the discovered, the rulers and the ruled, the civilized and the savage, the worthy and the unworthy. And later, as children will learn, the rich and the poor.

    And what characteristics does Columbus possess that could justify the domination described in kids' books? The books fail to answer this question directly, simply because they never raise it. Students are left to answer it themselves, albeit not consciously: Columbus was white, the natives were not; Columbus was Christian, the natives non-Christian; Columbus was armed, the natives un-armed. Whatever answers they may generate will endorse inequality: Some people in the world inherently have more rights than others.

    This fundamental global inequality is the ideological underpinning of U.S. involvement in Iraq. As George W. Bush proclaimed in his January 2003 State of the Union address, where he justified the impending war against Iraq: "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people and the hopes of all mankind. ...And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food
    and medicines and supplies—and freedom."

    According to this logic, "we" have the right to invade other nations when we decide they threaten us. We have a right to occupy other countries. We have the right to impose on them whatever form of government we choose—in the name of freedom, of course. We have the right to decide when others are ready to rule themselves, or not.

    Today's grown-ups learned imperialism with their ABCs.

    And in learning about a world divided between a righteous, powerful "us" and an inferior, childlike "them," youngsters also sometimes learned that there were different categories of "them." Some Taínos cooperated with the Columbus occupation. But some didn't. Here's how one book, Meet Christopher Columbus, acknowledges the native insurgency:

    [Columbus'] ships sailed on to the east. In a few days they came to a small bay. Some of the men went ashore to find food. Suddenly more than 50 Indians jumped out from behind the trees. They had bows and arrows. They attacked the men. The men fought back. One Indian was hit by an arrow. Another was badly cut.

    The Indians were surprised by the bravery of Columbus' men. They dropped their bows and ran away.

    These were the only unfriendly Indians that Columbus' crew ever saw.

    Notice that the book calls the European invaders "men," but refers to the Taínos simply as Indians. This is Taíno land, but instead the book portrays the Taínos as aggressors: "They attacked the men." In this historical flip-flop, the colonial invaders bravely "fought back."

    Thus is born the friendly Indian/ unfriendly Indian dichotomy: The good Indians—think Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi—cooperate with the occupation forces. The bad Indians—think everyone in Falluja, for example—fight back. The savages. As President Bush said in a recent Saturday radio address: "Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy."

    And through it all, God is on "our" side. President Bush: "Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."

    In children's books, Columbus also seeks to share God's gift: "When Christopher Columbus was a child, he always wanted to be like Saint Christopher. He wanted to sail to faraway places and spread the word of Christianity," writes biographer Mary Pope Osborne.

    Many of us began to encounter today's justifications for U.S. intervention and domination when we were children. Civilized, Christian Westerners bring enlightenment to the unwashed heathens. Good Indians do what they're told. Bad Indians fight back and get what they deserve.

    These myths don't help young people think clearly about the world. What's worse is when a country builds its foreign policy on cartoon-like assumptions about social relations.


    or if that doesnt float your boat, how about this (marine returns to his class):

    When Satch,* who graduated in June 2001, returned to my classroom last spring, he bore little physical resemblance to the gangly, bespectacled youth who once sat in my sophomore English class. He strode through the door in neatly pressed military garb, hat pressed to his right hip, a thick-chested, heavily tattooed man. I noticed that contacts replaced the Coke-bottle glasses he once wore. But when we shook hands, his smile revealed more than a glimmer of the angry, confused kid who had struggled at school.

    "They're shipping me to Iraq," he told me. "I leave in one week." The tone of his voice betrayed the poise and the confidence his uniform projected.

    When Satch joined my sophomore English class in 1998, he had a reputation for being disruptive and rude. He often fought with his stepfather, and his mother struggled with drug dependency. It was no surprise that Satch was dealing with some anger.

    Still, I found Satch's views refreshing. During our reading of 1984 he said that there existed only leaders and followers: He believed no one lived between the two. His work was generally rushed, superficial, and frequently late. But Orwell's book had fired him up and he participated often in our discussions. He was proud when he turned in a comparison essay between Oceania and blind faith in corporate logos.

    I would often see Satch in the vice principal's office. He was suspended on several occasions for fighting, stealing, and skipping school. Here, his will pitted against an unabashedly tough disciplinarian, Satch paced angrily while his flushed face betrayed his otherwise stoic expression. I accompanied him on one occasion. At his request I told the V.P. that Satch's third-quarter grade was much improved over the prior two and that his attendance was regular. I was a third-year teacher, and I was certain Satch was far more at ease in the V.P.'s office than I was. In a stuttery, roundabout fashion, I said a suspension might hurt Satch's progress. The vice principal rescinded the suspension and Satch finished the year with a "C" in my class.

    I never had Satch in my classroom again. But we stayed in touch and spoke often. Once we played basketball on my side of the Willamette River. Late in his senior year, he signed up with the Marines. I felt dismayed and helpless. It seemed to me that Satch had other—better—choices. I thought Satch had a gift for working with children. Our high school offers a course where older students serve as preschool instructors. Although initially I was skeptical of his ability to follow through on this commitment, when I visited him in the classroom, I could see that he was thriving. The instructor told me how much the kids loved climbing on his broad but bony shoulders. I regret that I didn't encourage Satch to take classes at Portland Community College geared toward early childhood education.

    The Marines
    On Sept. 11, 2001, Satch was serving in Europe. Through his emails I learned sparing details about the anti-terrorist unit he had been assigned to in the Mediterranean. When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Satch was stationed in Spain. He questioned the justification for the war and had difficulty staying quiet. "You taught me to think critically," he once wrote, "but here that isn't always possible."

    By the time he came to my classroom door in late May 2005, Satch had grown up quite a bit. We spoke long into the afternoon about his feelings about both the political aspects of the war and his upcoming presence in Ramadi, a notoriously dangerous region. "I'm scared. I know I am." When Satch said this, his voice skipped an octave for just a moment. He swallowed carefully and then playfully picked up a wooden ruler from my desk and spun it in the air.

    We walked together to a nearby restaurant and I bought him a cup of coffee.

    I asked him if he wouldn't mind telling me about his experience with military recruiters, as their presence on campus had increased noticeably since September 2001.

    "Since I been in I realized how much of the recruiters' job is bullshit. They're taught...trained...to talk easily about politics and how to make jokes. Seriously, they take lessons on this stuff."

    Satch said that in high school he felt directionless. "Recruiters feed off of low esteem, man." The military recruiters who sought Satch's signature had promised him "a lot of respect, the chance to become a man who had a purpose. They glamorize it. Recruiters make the military to be exactly what you need it to be."

    In high school, Satch had little money to spare. As his senior year arrived, and life after high school became imminent, Satch said he felt "vulnerable and confused. I was [the military's] perfect candidate." A leaflet in the counseling office drew his attention to the military. When a recruiter arrived in February of his senior year, Satch saw a way to escape "the reputation I had built for myself." Satch was vulnerable. But as our school's counseling office operates at a ratio of nearly 350 students for every one counselor, his contact there "was mainly to make sure I got out." The recruiter "made me feel like I could get somewhere in life, that I had options. You don't meet a lot of rich people in the Marines...[but] the recruiters talk a ton about money."

    During our conversation, Satch was clear about his regrets. "I didn't know then I had other choices...if I did it all over again ...I'd wait."

    I asked Satch if he would consider talking with a freshman English class of mine. This particular class had a handful of struggling students whose profile mirrored Satch's own early high school career. I hoped Satch's perspective might help them in their own encounters with military recruiters.

    "Definitely. I don't mind," he said.

    A Visit to Class
    When he arrived in a second period ninth-grade classroom in early June, my students were eager for summer. A guest speaker was an exciting alternative to completing their final papers. The tall, blue-clad soldier with medals on his chest immediately caught their attention.

    "Before I even talk, if you have any questions you can just ask them," Satch said. Typically eager to be first, one of the girls in the class shot her hand up. Satch nodded her way and she asked, "Do you think ...do you, like, agree with this war?"

    Satch responded immediately that he "didn't as a civilian. That's the truth. But now ...I have a job to do ...I'll do what I am asked to do. But yeah, you have reasons to think, to question, about this war."

    Several other students asked about where he had traveled and whether or not we would catch Osama bin Laden. Satch's answers were always clipped, deliberated, but direct.

    "What I wanted to tell you, all of you," he said, "is that you don't know right now how many choices you have. Take advantage of them. If I was you again, I'd take a year off and just think about what I really wanted to do. I wouldn't have signed up so fast for the Marines. If I were you, I wouldn't sign anything fast."

    Satch leaned forward on my podium. "You have to be careful if you're thinking about the military. Maybe it is right for you, but for a lot of people it's not. People get taken advantage of. If you are listening to recruiters, take everything they say with a grain of salt. Don't take what they say to heart."

    As Satch spoke, my freshmen paid rapt attention. What I found most interesting was who asked the most questions. Tolin, a reticent student but devoted dirt bike fanatic, raised his hand more than he had all year. This was encouraging. Tolin is someone I consider to be a prime candidate for recruiters. If anything Satch said had sunk in, then more good came of this visit than any lesson I could have prepared on my own. One of my more enthusiastic students, Coryn, told me the next day that her older brother was thinking of joining the Marines and that Satch's visit had prompted her to talk to him about it. "I don't want him to ...[ignore] other opportunities."

    I hoped more than anything that being forewarned about military recruiters' methods would mean that there was a chance that students would be less likely to be sold on the military as a post-high school panacea. The military has ways of reaching teens that transcend hallway conversations. Dazzling commercials and video games now serve as recruitment propaganda without context. There is no sense that "once you're in, you're theirs."

    As new students filtered in for the next period, Satch retrieved his hat and I wrote down my new email address. I made him promise to write me and stay in touch.

    We hugged awkwardly and then he said, as if foreseeing a question, "'Course I'll see you again soon." I walked him out the front doors of the school and watched as he walked through the clusters of teens to his car.

    Satch is currently serving in Ramadi. I have received only one email to date. In clipped, terse language Satch says that he is "trying real hard to get adjusted to [the scale] of the destruction."

    Although he's only in his early 20s, Satch's life is in jeopardy. He will likely face taking the lives of other people of all ages. I can't help but think I should have been more proactive in steering Satch to community college. Or perhaps I should have encouraged him to take some time off to think about his future and get a job in his community.

    I use these regrets as I think about my students today. With no end in sight for this administration's wars, I believe I have a responsibility to counteract military recruiters' efforts in my school district. Teaching my students to question recruiters' promises could help to save their lives.

    Satch reminded me that we are still connected to our students even after they leave our classrooms. Teaching in a time of war raises the stakes for everyone.


    or finally (hand on heart):

    Years of writing about public relations and propaganda has probably made me a bit jaded, but I was amazed nevertheless when I visited America's Army, an online video game website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In its quest to find recruits, the military has literally turned war into entertainment.

    America's Army offers a range of games that kids can download or play online. Although the games are violent, with plenty of opportunities to shoot and blow things up, they avoid graphic images of death or other ugliness of war. Instead, they offer a sanitized, Tom Clancy version of fantasy combat. One game, Overmatch, promises "a contest in which one opponent is distinctly superior . . . with specialized skills and superior technology . . . OVERMATCH: few soldiers, certain victory" (more or less the same overconfident message that helped lead us into Iraq).

    Ubisoft, the company contracted to develop the DoD's games, also sponsors the "Frag Dolls," a real-world group of attractive, young women gamers who go by names such as "Eekers," "Valkyrie" and "Jinx" and are paid to promote Ubisoft products. At a computer gaming conference earlier this year, the Frag Dolls were deployed as booth babes at the America's Army demo, where they played the game and posed for photos and video (now available on the America's Army website). On the Frag Dolls weblog, Eekers described her turn at the Combat Convoy Experience:

    You have this gigantic Hummer in a tent loaded with guns, a rotatable turret, and a huge screen in front of it. Jinx took the wheel and drove us around this virtual war zone while shooting people with a pistol, and I switched off from the SAW turret on the top of the vehicle to riding passenger with an M4.

    School Monitors
    Military officials have also developed an elaborate public relations strategy for outreach to schools. In fall 2004, the Army published a guidebook for high school recruiters. Specific advice includes the following:

    "Be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand."

    "Cultivate coaches, librarians, administrative staff and teachers."

    "Know your student influencers. Students such as class officers, newspaper and yearbook editors, and athletes can help build interest in the Army among the student body."

    "Distribute desk calendars to your assigned schools."

    "Attend athletic events at the HS. Make sure you wear your uniform."

    "Get involved with the parent-teacher association."

    "Coordinate with school officials to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month."

    "Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month."

    "Coordinate with the homecoming committee to get involved with the parade."

    "Get involved with the local Boy Scouts. . . . Many scouts are HS students and potential enlistees or student influencers."

    "Order personal presentation items (pens, bags, mouse pads, mugs) as needed monthly for special events."

    "Attend as many school holiday functions or assemblies as possible."

    "Offer to be a timekeeper at football games."

    "Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is in January. Wear your dress blues and participate in school events commemorating this holiday. . . . February . . . Black History Month. Participate in events as available."

    "Contact the HS athletic director and arrange for an exhibition basketball game between the faculty and Army recruiters."


    catch my drift now?

    Bill A