Monday, September 15, 2014

Children With Armies

From Peter Brook's 1963
film adaptation of Lord of the Flies
Once, when I was teaching Lord of the Flies (a novel, if you are not familiar, about a group of young boys stranded on a desert island and left, completely without adult supervision, to build whatever society they could) I decided to try an activity, before the very first discussion.

I don't seat my students alphabetically; I let them choose their seats and then I make them stay put for subsequent classes for the sake of learning their names. This was a sophomore class and we had been in session for a few months, so they were completely familiar with the established seating, with the room and with me.

I told them all to get up and to stand at the back of the room; then, I instructed them to sit in alphabetical order.

I sat behind my desk and the questions started to roll in...

"So...Mr. Mat...uh...alphabetical across or up-and-down?"

[I shrugged and looked out the window, dramatically.]

"Wait...Mr. By first name or last?"

[I inspected a thumb nail with exaggerated interest.]

"Of course by last, you moron," a student voice said. "Who goes by first name, like, ever?"

The commotion ensued. I put my feet up and started "reading."

I watched them, though. Some stood placidly with their arms folded, leaning against the back wall. Others jumped to action. One young lady (who would wind up being the class's salutatorian) met my eyes and grinned and quickly took charge and everything began to fall into place. Some served this girl by bringing her plan alive, leading kids and pointing to particular desks; others sat back and waited, hopefully, to be led and then they sat, relieved that they were out of the mix. Still others stood, begrudgingly waiting, and rolling their eyes at how stupid this all was. And yet a few more stood smiling or leveling meaningful glances at me because they totally "got" what I was doing and were loving watching the whole thing play out.

And there it is.

Which of those kids are you? And when humanity is engaged in the surreal and darkly comical nonsense of childlike bickering and ambitions ["I want that ball/stretch of land, so I am going to hit/blow you (and your children) up;" "I think you are wrong, so I am going to punch/cut your head off (on social media);" "I don't like your style, so I am going to bully you/protest your life in public/ruin your important events..."] where do you fall?

We are those children. Read the book or read it again. Then, decide: When's it okay to start refusing to play?

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