How many problems are encountered in the line to the school hall or the playground?
How common is the call
“ He/She pushed in” or
“That’s my space “
“I’m at the front/back”
I remember the squabbling, the constant jostle to get to the front, the arms spread across the doorway to prevent anyone from passing and also that slightly lost look of the children who really didn’t want to be in a line at all, those who just hadn’t yet worked it out.
A quote from a 4 year old in his first week of “Big School” prompted an experiment that would challenge my thinking as their teacher and the children themselves.
It was the ideal opportunity to collect as a community to inquire into the philosophy behind lining up.
I often ask the staff in settings I work with to try out this experiment as part of an investigation into democracy. What do children really think about the world adults impose on them?
The children at Reflections Nursery and Forest School in Worthing recently offered their first thoughts when asked by Teacher Becki Smith.
Why do we line up and who gets to be the leader?
“Only boys can be leaders”
“I can be the leader because I’m not small”
“It doesn’t matter who’s at the front because the person at the back gets to do lucky things”
“It could be anyone at the front”
“If there’s no leader then nobody can follow”
“I think the teacher should choose who has been the goodest to be the leader”
“We need a line so we don’t trip”
“They will fight for the leader”
“You can’t push can you?”
“When you don’t be the leader it means you have to share”
“We need a leader or we will all go in a circle”
Their thoughts raise a number of questions about power, responsibility and leadership. You might wish to try it out yourself with your class.
Observe without comment how the children line up over the course of a few days. It is helpful if you can take photos and make notes on what happens.
At the end of the week share the photos and observations with the children and ask them for their first thoughts on these observations and the process of lining up.
Some questions that might aid facilitation of this inquiry could include;
Why do we line up?
Is the person at the front necessarily the leader?
Does being a leader mean being first?
Who decides who is at the front and why?
What does being at the front mean?
Does the leader have the most power?
What is respect and how do you get it?
Is lining up fair?
How does it feel not to be the leader?
When would being the first in the line not be a good thing?
What if you were expected to lead everyone to a place you knew nothing about?
The philosophical concepts of power, leadership, responsibility and order can be explored when we consider lining up as a symbol of life and society in a wider context.
· Is a leader born or made?
· What qualities make a good or bad leader?
· Would you want to be the leader if you knew you were responsible for life or death situations?
· Is there a natural order of hierarchy in” humanness” or is it cultural?
· Can we function without a leader?
· Could we all share leadership as equals?
Of course the best way for the children to think about these ideas is to get them to experience it.
Allow the children to think about how they organise leadership over the coming days.
Can they find a way to move from one place to another in an ordered manner without order?
Try it and share the thoughts, experiences and ideas. We’d love to hear about them.