April 2, 2005

Camp City Year

This past week I worked alongside my fellow Corps Members in a day camp for 400 elementary school students during their spring break.  With this being my first real foray into an elementary school setting since I last was a student at one, several interesting thoughts came to my mind via the children and several more norms that people teach about a child's developmental process proved too true.

First, the idea that fourth graders--the grade I primarily worked with--are in a stage where tattling is the best way to get things done was strikingly apparent.  Not five minutes went by without a "Mr. Andrew, so-and-so did this to so-and-so and this happened, so now this is happening...."  Because of this nature of fourth graders, I slowly lost my patience and ability to operate effectively with them throughout the week.  I am glad people do exist in the world that love children and their fickleness enough to be with them on a consistent basis.

Second, some of the thoughts that they allowed to creep into my head was particularly enlightening.  Prior to this week, I thought of children as minimal people that just couldn't function up to par yet.  School was there to help them catch up to the rest of the world.  While this is still largely how I perceive schooling, I was shocked at how little they were able to understand even slightly complicated inquiries.  For instance, one brainstorm asked the children for their ideas on "How to make a difference."  Initially, the answers we received back from the students were stuck on the word difference in a much more literal sense.  They said things like "different lengths of sleeves" or "switch a shoe."  After a bit of confusion we got most of the class on the correct track toward things like "Picking up litter" and, my favorite, "getting people to stop selling drugs and using guns."  I still wonder what caused the confusion in the beginning.  Was it a product of the over-simplicity of their earlier education experiences that they just didn't know how to think deeply yet, or did we just explain the brainstorm incorrectly.

Another thought that I had during the week was how quickly it was to fall back into a fourth grade mode of operation.  Before the week was out, I started framing all my arguments in fourth grade logic and reason.  It was frightening and I think I have recovered, but none-the-less interesting.

I'll have to think about what else I thought this past week and post it here if I can.  Needless to say, it was a good, yet tiresome, week.  The peak came on Thursday when 400 elementary school children sang a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to me.  Kids can be okay.  :)