13 January 2013

Turning Play Weapons into Garden Tools?

As my thumb heals, I'm finding lots of time to think about my new year's resolution to think less (ahem) and do more, especially where it comes to food growing and preserving, and learning the old arts (soap making, paper making ... Earth Mama stuff). 

I'm also seeing connections pop up everywhere. I've started taking an online course called School Gardening 101, and the section on the socio-emotional benefits of gardening for children fit right into a professional day spent with my colleagues the other day where we talked about social development, social thinking, and social and emotional intelligence. 

(No, my colleagues were not even remotely thinking about the school garden, but I was. It's always a bit surreal to me that educators can spend several hours talking about the welfare and best interests of their students without ever mentioning that their future is extremely threatened by the climate change emergency, but that's the way it is. 

We teach in non-integrated, non-ecological ways, separating our days into separate "subjects" as though math has nothing to do with science, which has nothing to do with art and language and social studies — and we talk about teaching in non-integrated ways, as well. I'm getting used to living in cognitive dissonance when I'm at work.)

But here's what I'd really like to share with you. When I first started working with my group of students over five years ago (it's an innovative family-based learning program), I quickly latched onto the word "pacifist" to help the kids create an ethic of peace, empathy and cooperation together. 

They've been great about respecting our pacifist nature, but as the boys have grown older, their play keeps turning to playfighting. They're able to turn anything into a weapon, it seems. (I guess encouraging their imagination and creativity can have its downside!)

I was just about to intervene in the gym the other day when play fighting (using little scooters and shuffleboard cues/sticks) was turning a bit too raucous (ie, someone was going to get hurt) when the mother of one of the boys ran over instead. 

A discussion ensued with my oldest student, a great kid who's very active but willing to engage in deep conversations for as long as he can stay still. We talked about whether boys' predilection for weaponry is atavistic (coming from a deep, ancient place) or even vestigial (having become functionless in the course of evolution). 

Can (should?) we help boys honour what could be seen as their role as protectors? And if so, how can we do this without them having to play fight so much? It's probably a much deeper anthropological and psychological question than I have time to delve into, so if you have any insights or references, please send them along in a comment.

But this Biblical quote keeps running through my head (and here's where we get back to where I started this rambling post):
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. — Isaiah 2:4
If we started channeling the play fighting of boys into gardening ... if we had them turn their toy weapons into the tools of food growing ... would that give young males a sense of purpose in this strange world we're living in? Indeed, as the illustration above shows, young men and women could be working together for the common purpose of rediscovering the ancient agricultural arts that were more in tune with the climate (rather than forcing everything to grow anywhere). 

And the bonus would be fewer greenhouse (gardening ... popping up everywhere these days!) gas emissions, since militaries and their wars are the biggest carbon polluters on the planet! Hey, how many nuclear missiles does it take to make one wind turbine? I've got students who would love to beat those particular swords into plowshares!

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?