Thursday, October 23, 2014

Play Nice, Or Don't Play

One of the things I stress on the playground where I work is sportsmanship. It is kind of an obscure concept for five to eleven-year-olds, but we do the best we can. This is true of many of the lessons we try to teach in elementary school, but if we can catch them while they still have those stretchy and absorbent brains, we all might stand a chance when it comes time to solve simple problems in the adult world.
For example: What should happen when you don't agree with someone else on the playground? It is not okay to hit, or spit, on the person with whom you are having a disagreement. That would only make things work. We start with "I messages." We encourage kids to share their feelings about the situation that caused the conflict. For example: "I don't like it when you laugh if I miss the ball." Or "It makes me feel bad when you cut me in line." We teach best by modeling the behavior we would like to see. That's why I would expect that the best place in the world for this kind of instruction would be "The Show Me State," Missouri.
Unfortunately, we can't always expect what we teach to stick the first time. For instance, "I don't like it when you hang the United States flag upside down," would have been a much better opening line than simply grabbing it from a protester, inciting what could best be described as even more of a ruckus. Maybe, "It makes me feel bad when you put the handcuffs on too tight." Upside down flags? Handcuffs? What kind of playground was this? Well, it wasn't exactly a playground. It was just outside a sports facility in St. Louis. You might think that after having watched the hometown team surprise the reigning world champs, Rams fans might have been in a more forgiving mood. It could be that the lack of forgiveness was also being felt on the part of the protesters, who were outside the Edward Jones Dome calling for justice in the case of Michael Brown.
I suspect that people who pay upwards of one hundred dollars a ticket to watch professional football in any city don't expect to walk out of that experience and into civil unrest. I'm also guessing that citizens of Missouri might have become desensitized to the sounds of voices raised in anger, but I could be wrong. Maybe the best outcome would have been for both groups to enjoy their First Amendment rights and keep it at Freedom of Speech. I know we have that lawful assembly thing in there, but I'm pretty sure our founding fathers didn't include a "Freedom of Scuffling" in any of the original versions of the Constitution. They chose, as we do now, to use their words. Good modeling, Mister Madison!

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