“I pledge allegiance to the Toad. And to the school at which I play. And to the cooperation with which it works. One class, under redwoods, with goofiness and giddiness for all.”
Last week a student asked, as we delved into the Roman Republic, “What is a senate?” Instead of giving the students a bland definition or drawing a picture on the board, I dug around in my brain for some example which would have a more immediate meaning. Then my eye caught our three Toads.
Now let me take you back about a year or so.
Our students get a 20 minute physical education section during their day. It’s an opportunity for them to play organized, structured games. Because we have such a large wooded campus, students often like to play chase type games outside when it is sunny and warm. However, once it becomes chilly and cloudy, students like to be inside where we play running and stopping type games. One perennial favorite is dodge ball.
Now, let me say at the outset that I hate this game. When I was a kid, I didn’t mind it, or at least I don’t remember disliking it. I was small and fast and generally pretty hard to hit until the bigger kids were out. But as an adult, I hate supervising it. Some kid always throws too hard. Some kid always doesn’t want to admit they’re out. Some kid always ends up with a nose bleed. As a way to sow discord among children, you cannot go wrong with dodge ball.
To combat the nose issue, our school requires students to wear those stupid goggles. (I never really understood how the goggles protect the students, but there it is.) Generally, the threat of having to don the goggles keeps most students from voting to play dodge ball. (Maybe this is their one and only function. Who knows?) Anyway, students were wanting badly to throw things at each other, and we couldn’t find the goggles. What to do? What to do?
I thought of my stuffed Toad. My husband is a denizen of Nintendo of America, and he likes to give me toys from their shop. He had given me a six-inch stuffed red-capped Toad. It’s so completely un-aerodynamic that I use it for such indoor games as “Silent Toad” and “The Lord Mayor’s Cat”. (Silent Toad is when I give the students a topic and they toss Toad around to each other saying a word for the topic. If they can’t think of something, or they talk out of turn, or they fall off their desk, they have to sit down.) Toad is also totally soft, with no hard parts to put anybody’s eye out. I told students they could play a type of dodge ball using Toad.
They were thrilled. So, down we trucked to the gym. Where, predictably, all hell broke loose. Although they all said they “knew the rules,” it became clear that there were about six different versions of the game happening at once and many, many accusations of cheating.
So, I sat them all down on the floor, and we began to construct a game that would work for everybody. I forget who came up with the idea that the Toad chucker could only chuck said Toad at the chuck-ees after the chucker had taken three steps, but it was a brilliant idea and it became the basis for the now long running game of “Three-Step Toad”.
But even then, it was not an easy road. Students argued about the rules and tried to make the game work for them. What politician doesn’t? Finally, I grabbed a big piece of paper, and we as a group, wrote down the rules. I added one caveat: the students had to come to consensus on all of the rules. (Yup. I’m a Quaker.) After a few days of hammering this out, this is what we ended up with:
And you can see that over the course of last year and this, we have added, subtracted, clarified, and generally mucked about with the rules. So why do I tell you all of this? Because what they have done is to painstakingly construct a type of constitution which governs the behavior of students in their PE life. At the beginning of this year, we ratified this constitution for the benefit of new students. Again, we needed to come to consensus as a class, but once the rules were set, we’ve had very few deaths… er, I mean problems. (You know what they say, “No autopsy, no foul.”)
So, when my student asked that very simple question, “What is a senate?”, I was able to turn to the rules of our game and say, “When you lobbied for your point of view, and you negotiated with other people on their points of view, and you came to agreement on what is best for and fairest for this game, you were following in the footsteps of the ancient Athenians, the Romans, and countless other democracies. You were being, in effect, a senator. Now you tell me: what is a senate?”