In 1992 Vivian Gussin Paley set out to change the social order in her kindergarten classroom. She noticed, as most teachers do, that even when you outlaw hitting and ban name calling, certain children, “the bosses” as her young students dubbed them, control the social order by excluding some children thereby creating the in-crowd and the outcasts. “No, you can’t join our game,” No, you can’t play dolls with us,” “No, you can’t be my friend,” the bosses say.
To address the hurtful behavior she saw in her classroom Paley instituted a new rule: “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play.” Her children were told that under this new rule they could not stop any other child from joining in their play or activities. Over the year Paley promulgated the rule through class discussions and through storytelling. Was it easy? No. There were still hurtful exclusions and plenty of tears from the bosses who could no longer get their way. As Paley notes when she visited other classrooms to see what older students thought of the rule, these third graders, already wise to the way the world works, said: “It’s very fair, but it just isn’t human nature.”
But as a peace educator I don’t believe that we should give up trying to eliminate exclusionary behavior because it seems to go against the grain or because it’s hard. Anti-bullying research shows that children who are always rejected may become shy, lonely, sad, anxious, insecure, fearful, and may even avoid school if they can (Tull, 2011). Children who are allowed to exclude others grow up thinking they can continue to do so, and look where that leads: Young boys like Treyvon Martin are murdered because they are the wrong color in the wrong place, and he is just one of many.
So stand up with me against exclusionary behavior. If you’re a teacher of young children institute the “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” rule in your classroom. If you work with elementary,middle, or high school students check out this TPN activity based on Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches.
Read more… You Can’t Say You Can’t Play by Vivian Gussin Paley 1992 Harvard University Press
Listen to her speak: