The Wild Bunch

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Boys at play

Boys at play

The bottom photo which was taken at my son’s birthday gathering is not a good representation of what I watched yesterday. We gathered at Prospect Park to take a few of my son’s friends to the movie 9 for his 9th birthday. As we were early, we hung out at the benches in front of the park, and naturally the boys ran into the park to take up some immediately concocted war game.

Within seconds the entire group had taken up tree branches and were engaged in one on one battle. Now any civil minded Park Slope parent would look on this aghast, with the thought that “you are going to knock out someone’s eye!!”  but if you really watched, you would notice that there were unspoken rules to this engagement. The game had not the slightest bit of violence to it. They instinctively knew that if the game went too far, they would hurt one another. But that was not the case. There was a mutual respect. And it was funny to watch, because their inner wildness was so natural, I had to keep myself from grabbing a branch myself and joining the battle.

The key to this is that all these boys are lucky enough to be in the Brooklyn Free School. Their level of cooperation is astonishing. Even one of the smaller boys, who has some hyperactive issues, is dealt with by the others in a humane fashion. They serve to help and instruct him more than any adult instructor could.

Cooperation and mutual respect in our society. What a novel concept.

In reading Chris Mercagliano’s book, I am reminded by my own childhood. He speaks about a time when there was very little adult involvement in our activities. Since Chris and I are about the same age, our experiences are similar, even though the locations differed. On a daily basis, I hit the streets to organize activities with my friends. Games of freeze tag, slap ball, stoop ball, foot races and bicycle trips were regular events. Hockey, baseball, football, punchball games were organized to the level where we even had inter school yard play. All without any adult intervening. Somehow we found a way to agree on the activity and then carry it out. Even creative projects like soap box car building were cooperative. All of this creative, organizational and cooperative play has been replaced , by video games, over scheduling and play dates. Spontaneous activity has been sidelined. But the above picture shows us that this instinct is not lost and can be recovered in a nanosecond and it requires us to have trust in our children again, so that they can create the world that they will have to live in. Hopefully I will write more about trust in the future.

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