Thursday, November 4, 2010

"A Very Confusing Early Lesson"

A prototypical Kindergarten tableau:

We’re in a classroom. The desks are pushed together to form some kind of communal table, with, say, four kids to a table. Everyone has a sheet of drawing paper. There’s a big pile of crayons. You use the crayons, and you make a picture.

A kid at one table reaches over, scoops up all the crayons, and slides them towards himself, like a winning poker player raking in a pot.

Every single crayon. He’s hoarding them all. And he starts to work on his picture. A little red, a little yellow, raw umber, some burnt sienna. Having cornered all the crayons, his options are unlimited. Within the magical Crayola universe of crayon colors.

The three other kids at the table immediately react with responses ranging from “No fair!” to crying, to getting up and telling the teacher.


Arriving at the table, and surveying the situation, wherein the entire allotment of the table’s crayons are sitting in front of one child, leaving no crayons for anybody else, the teacher says,

“Now, (THE ABOVE HATEFUL KID’S NAME), you know the rule.”

All together now…

“You have to share.”

Now, if I were that kid – and I never was, I was more likely the kid who yelled, “No fair!”, and then got put in the corner for making a commotion in class – but if I were the kid who was hoarding all the crayons, my answer to my teacher’s telling me, “You have to share”, would definitely have been…


Or, if I were wiser than my four or five years, and was fully cognizant of international history,

“What is this, Soviet Russia? I mean, come on! They don’t even share there anymore!”

It’s true. They don’t. The “sharing thing” didn’t work out. So they switched to something more along the lines of what we do:

Putting our efforts into accumulating as many crayons as we can possibly get our hands on.

That’s our culture. That’s what we do. And we glorify the winners. What’s the annual Fortune 500 list if it isn’t a public announcement of which five hundred Americans have currently possess the greatest number of crayons? “Net worth” is simply a “Crayon Count” in dollars. Or, more likely, assets, since the really rich have less actual money than, say, properties that they borrowed money to acquire.

The winner in the economic system we live under is the person who possesses the greatest number of crayons. And yet, we drum into our children the requirement that will weaken their chances of coming out on, or anywhere near, the top, that requirement being:

“You have to share.”

Imagine Spartan youths being required to lie around snacking on hummus and pita, and watching the sun revolve around the earth. They get into battle – where Spartans youths inevitably wind up – and it’s like, “We’re not prepared for this!”

Are we not similarly mistraining our children? And – see my opening example – criticizing the only student who’s doing it right?

I can understand teaching, “We do not hit people” in Kindergarten, because in later life, you’re also not allowed to hit people. The difference here is that in later life,

Nobody shares.

They only share in Kindergarten.

And the question – repeated for a second time – is the “hoarder’s” question:


I am not being sarcastic here. I am entirely befuddled by this perplexing contradiction.


MattA said...

“The winner in the economic system we live under is the person who possesses the greatest number of crayons.”

This is where the inconsistency comes in and why you think we are teaching two different principles at two different stages of life. The hoarder in the story never owned the crayons to begin with. If the hoarder does not share, the teacher can easily remind him or her that those crayons don’t belong to him/her. So, when the teacher says, “You have to share,” it is really shorthand for “You have to share what has been shared with you.” Then, this is very consistent with what we teach later on. We don’t tell people they have to share (although the government tries all the time); we tell them they should share. Even Binney and Smith don’t share their crayons; we have to buy them. The “You have to share” philosophy is just the Golden Rule in real life. (The Bible comes through again!) Now, another discussion can arise as to who owns the resources used to make those crayons, or oil, or refrigerators, but that is another discussion, maybe even a theological one.

Anonymous said...

This is the classic difference between those who think we need to share a fixed pie and those who want to bake more pies.