Long time no post...busy...etc.
But here's a quick sketch of something I've been ponderin' on lately.
For a while now I've had this vague, unarticulated sense of discomfort with the rhetoric of inclusiveness and sharing that's so common in daycares, preschools, and the K-6 setting. As you probably know, usually I'm all about inclusiveness and non-violent communication and all that. But I think there's a pretty serious misapplication of these otherwise good ideas in this context. It seems to me that there's a very important piece getting lost in the dialogue, and it's a piece that's especially important for girls.
Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships is an important part of being a healthy, functional adult. Having a sense of your own worth, and your right to defend yourself against abuse or a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable is critical. And establishing a sense of autonomy and ownership of self is foundational to both of these. My thought is that with the excessive emphasis on inclusion and sharing and avoiding conflict as much as possible that's so common to early educational environments, this important foundation gets lost.
The insistence on referring to every child in the class or group as "your friends" even when there's a legitimate conflict going on is one example of this dynamic. In an adult context, we interact with people every day whom we would not choose as our friends. We can be polite and kind to them without making them a friend. In fact, if that person is rude or abusive to us, it would be ridiculous to think of them as "my friend" simply because we find ourselves in the same place with them on a regular basis. And yet this seems to be what we're expecting of children. You'll often see adults expecting kids to share a toy they just began playing with, or to include other children in a game they're playing even if it's not a good time in the game to add more players. And then there's the old expectation that children will reciprocate with physical affection to another child or an adult who's demanding it, even if the child is feeling shy, or is not in the mood for the physical interaction.
So we teach them that they can't say no; they can't pursue their own projects uninterrupted when another child decides they want to participate or use the toy in question; they can't politely and respectfully decline to be friends with someone whose company they don't enjoy... And then we wonder why they have such a hard time establishing healthy boundaries in their relationships as teens and young adults.
So what I'm thinking is this: Inclusiveness and non-violent communication are perfectly consistent with establishing and maintaining healthy personal boundaries. But somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that being kind and inclusive requires a person to become a doormat who cannot defend themselves or politely excuse themselves from interactions that make them feel uncomfortable. And the fact that this has become such a dominant paradigm in classroom environments is unfortunate and counterproductive, to say the least. I think we often learn more about relationships from negative interactions, but only when a healthy way of handling conflict is encouraged and modelled for us.
It seems to me that empowering kids to value themselves and see themselves as autonomous beings who deserve to stand up for themselves and be heard is as important as teaching them to be inclusive and considerate. In fact, it seems to be the mirror image and counterbalance. Instead of "I'm OK, you're OK," it's "you're valuable, and so am I."