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April 24, 2007

Perpetual Peace: Kant's Vision Realized through Pre-k?

The other day I was reminded of the importance of solidifying positive and peaceful attitudes early on in pre-k.  I overheard a teacher reprimanding a first-grade student in the hallway for hitting another child.  The teacher simply said, “You cannot hit her, it’s not nice.  Do you understand?”  When the child did not respond, the teacher said, in a more abrasive tone, “Say YES!.”  The child then said “yes,” as commanded, and the teacher moved on.

I had to wonder how effective that child will be in solving problems on his own.  Perhaps his teachers to date have not taught social skills effectively.  Or possibly he has experienced things that have undermined the endurance of those skills in the long run.  The incident caused me to reflect on my efforts this year.

I start teaching our peaceful and empowering approach in the beginning of the school year.  The process entails direct whole-group instruction through puppet role plays, books about friends and feelings such as Words are not for Hurting, and songs like “The More We Get Together.” In these activities, we use consistent language like, “I feel sad when you [fill in the blank].”  Add to this many one-on-one, informal teachable moments, and gradually the children gain an understanding of why they should use their words instead of their hands. 

By December, my students were able to follow through with a “peace agreement”, but I served a dominant role in the initial stages of the process.  Since then, the children have made even more progress and now take ownership of the peace process from the beginning.  For instance, David used to suggest that characters in our stories use violence to solve problems.  If the Cat in the Hat won’t leave, David suggested, we should “hit him on the head.”  Now, he is more likely to recommend talking through problems.  When we discussed recently how the farmer in Farmer Duck exploits duck and refuses to do any work, David chose peaceful means over violent ones, advising the duck to tell the farmer, “Please, can you help me?.”

Other children still require occasional reminders and encouragement, but their skills are clearly developing.  Tyrone’s first inclination during a recent read aloud was to hit the animals that had stolen a character’s fruit.  After I asked him, “Do we hit animals or people?” he offered an alternative measure: “I would tell the animals that I won’t ride them no more.”  Similarly, Jeffrey came to inform me today that another student would not let him play with a certain toy.  All I had to say was, “Work it out on your own,” and Jeffrey returned to the student to say, “I feel sad when you won’t let me play with it.”

Pre-k teachers - indeed, all teachers - have an obligation to teach conflict resolution in a way that empowers students to solve problems peacefully.  I want my students to leave pre-k with the rationale and language needed to facilitate peaceful conflict resolution so that, throughout their lives, they will rarely, if ever, receive a scolding like that first grader in the hall.  Perhaps if we start with pre-k classrooms that provide students with such tools, we will lay the foundation for a society that more closely embodies Immanuel Kant’s vision of enduring peace between people and states.   

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Comments

Sophia what do you think if a teacher tells her student your a tatle tale you go in the trash.... This is what one of my childs teachers told him. I was very saddened by this I let it slide like I shouldnt have and I guess theses types of verbal repremanding are normal because now he is coming home with this type of behavior towards myslef and my husband. We discussed it with the school,but they saw this as fine and mine you they are NAYEC certified. Thankfully I removed him since he only had a few more weeks to go and I am fortunate enough to do this, but what about those who cant. I want to get your oppinion on this...

Johanna,

Wow, that is really unacceptable. Unfortunately, I think many parents would either take the school's word that such language is "fine" and overlook such an inappropriate approach to discipline or feel like it would just be too inconvenient to switch schools.

This is a tough issue...I mean you can look at it from a number of angles:

1. From your point of view (the parent's), understanding the approach and beliefs of the teacher from the beginning is crucial, so if you feel the need to switch schools or classrooms you can. But then again, how can you really know every detail from Open House and even 1-1 conferences?

2. In terms of the quality of the program, your concerns speak to larger issues with the caliber of teachers and administrators in early childhood. In my opinion, policymakers and pre-k advocates need to think critically about how to recruit, select, train, and support educators that shape a supportive, positive, and productive learning environment. Dialogue like the kind we have on this blog is just the beginning, but it is a start.

Let me know what you think about these points. I hope to continue this discussion and invite more blog visitors in.
Sophia

This has helped a lot and I agree but what do you think of Nayec as a seal of prek quality. Here is MD you just need to take 2 classes and you can be a head teacher now BA needed, I think this is a problem. As someone with a BA in ealry childhood I realize how much I notice about my sons preschools compared to other mothers who are educated but not in the education field. And that may be because many dont see prek as essential to their childs foundation of learning.

Johanna,

I do not have personal experience with NAEYC, but based on its year long self-study process for accreditation it seems like one of the more rigorous and credible existing early childhood institutions. That said, your experience seems to speak to either some flaws in that process or perhaps something unique to that center (e.g., staff changes since the initial accreditation process). I'm not really sure, but I think as we move forward with more and more districts and states supporting pre-k, we do need to take critiques like this seriously and always bring our analysis and planning back to the best interests of the children. Have you tried contacting NAEYC?

Another cool book for teaching peaceful classroom interactions is "I Call My Hand Gentle."

Thanks, Becky! I will check it out.

Have a great weekend.

Sophia

I teach pre-k in Texas. I work hard on problem solving skills in my room. I could not afford "kelso's choices" but found the pictures and enough information to use it in class. I also use some of "teaching with love and logic" ways of speaking to my class. We role play through out the year on sharing, how to deal with friends who don't want to play with them, how to ask for an item, how to "make a deal" etc. Once we got a good handle on how to deal with problems, I would tell my class to solve it on their own. I watch and listen, they have grown so much. My class now gets compliments on how well we treat each other and how well we behave in other classes, such as the computer room. This is just one way we deal with behavior. I'm a big believer in a busy child can't get into too much trouble, so, our schedule keeps us moving and learning. Along with allowing each child to be responsible with their belongings, cleaning up after themselves, and jobs. We are a "team" and a classroom family. As we say in my class, We are super pre-k and red hot!!-Tonya

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