Act 3 of the This American Life episode I talked about a post a few days ago—Kid Politics–took us into an unusual school. The kids are in charge at the Brooklyn Free School. They vote on everything from discipline to administrative policies. I wish this were more common. I would love to see more schools encouraging students to be a part of solutions rather than always being the problem under discussion. It is really amazing what can happen when people are allowed to be heard. There is a beautiful example of this in the TAL episode, and there are many examples of this in Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline. This book, a parenting collection classic, lays out the idea of the family/class meeting much as it seems to be practiced by the Brooklyn Free School. Nelson writes of class meetings,
[Students] . . . have ownership in the process, and are motivated to follow rules or solutions they helped create. Teachers find that children are much more willing to cooperate when they have been involved in the decision, even when the final solution is one that has been suggested by the teacher many times in the past to no avail.
It’s hard to involve a three year-old in solving family issues, but I do try. Apparently I use the word “solution” a lot because Ladybug sometimes calls herself “Solution Girl” as one of her many super hero identities (along with Rescue Girl). I hope she doesn’t lose track of how capable she is at seeing solutions. These skills are the ones we need to spread peace in the world. The kids at Brooklyn Free School are the future.
I am also reminded of a couple of books I’ve read recently in which kids took charge. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney has met with some rather mixed reviews. The story centers around some tough subjects (date rape, justice, vigilantism, to name a few), and first-time author Whitney handles them deftly as she follows a teen’s experience with the secret society at her boarding school as she attempts to deal with the aftermath of rape. The Mockingbirds were inspired to create their own justice by To Kill a Mockingbird and the lack of direct discipline at their school. It’s all very far-fetched, but it allows the book to explore the ethical issues in a setting that resembles real life but is a bit removed. I recommend it for mature teens or adults willing to suspend disbelief for an interesting story.
The other book that comes to mind surprised me back in January when it popped up on two awards lists from ALA. The Batchelder Honor didn’t surprise me. The award for translated literature always seems to go to quirky books from Europe, so the idea that this philosophical tale would garner an honor didn’t seem that out of the ordinary. Then I realized it had also received a Printz Honor. I guess I expected that the book wouldn’t appeal to enough members of a mainstream award to win. Don’t get me wrong. I liked it. Nothing by Janne Teller has a group of children deciding together the solution to the problem of one of their classmates deciding that nothing matters. They will each give up what matters most to them. It gets ugly as the kids up the ante more and more. Like The Mockingbirds, this book is not something you can see happening. A good thing, in this case.