What would you say if you saw a group of eight 1st and 2nd grade boys excluding a girl from their running game?
Possibly this: Sexism. Girls discriminated against. Our adult minds leap to what seems obvious. We might sigh and despair: it starts so young, especially in sports. We might speak up and intervene; force the boys to let the girls play.
I witnessed this scene recently while volunteering at my children’s school. The kids were playing Red Light Green Light, taking turns to be the stoplight and running up sneakily when his/her back was turned. Except one child – Tessa – didn’t play fairly. She made all the boys go out and picked a favorite friend to win over and over and over.
The kids got mad. Then they did all the right things. They told her exactly what they didn’t like, they reminded her how to play by the rules, and when she didn’t stop they excluded her from the game.
Because I’d seen the whole game from its beginning, I knew exactly why the boys weren’t letting Tessa play. It was Justice. Kid justice. Instead of being mean or discriminatory, they were simply standing up for themselves, protecting the game, and putting her in her place. The game wasn’t fun when she played it like that.
Kids’ actions and game rules do not always look fair to adult eyes. But they may be fair to the children.
Before we barge in, stop and listen, see what’s happening. Ask questions if you’re worried: “Is that OK with you?” Toys and roles may not be evenly distributed, but they may be right for the game, they may be right for the children involved in work or play.
Our goal shouldn’t be that everyone is treated the same. We are not all the same, so being treated the same isn’t respectful. Focus instead on helping kids speak up and set limits when they don’t like something. That’s a courageous act of peace. And sometimes, of justice.
What do you think? Have you witnessed times when adults step in for fairness, with the wrong results?
More about “That’s not fair,” respect and justice in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Got it? Read it? Review it!