Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Lego Lessons in Collectivism

Posted by Jerry on March 29, 2007

I had read about this story a while ago, but I was reminded of it now by John’s post. Basically, a private school in Seattle is teaching some of its kids that private property, ownership, and capitalism is evil. More specifically, the teachers are trying to get the kids to believe that property rights and individualism are the causes of social evils.

The children in the story ranged between 5 to 9 years old, and were involved in some Lego construction activity–the kids picked their own Lego pieces and constructed a sizeable Legotown, with airports, coffee shops, etc. However, as the teachers observed the children engaged in this building activity, they noticed some patterns of behavior that they found disconcerting.

From the article:

Into their coffee shops and houses, the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

Given this concern, the teachers decided to simply ban legos for some time, because in their opinion, the activity encourgared capitalist tendencies toward inequality in the ownership of the lego pieces. The teachers wanted to shape the children’s understanding of ownership from a “perspective of social justice” before allowing the kids to return to constructing Legotown.

Thus, over a period of several months while legos were banned, the teachers began exploring political and moral issues of fairness, equity, social justice, etc., with the children. At the end of this period, the teachers decided to re-introduced legos and allow the children to rebuild Legotown according to the new principles of social ownership they now learned.

Some of the new instructions were:

“All structures are public structures”

“All structures will be standard sizes.”

“A house is good because it is a community house.”

“We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes.”

“It’s important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building.”

Now, as the kids rebuilt Legotown according to the new framework they had been taught by their teachers, the children learned some new lessons:

Collectivity is a good thing; personal expression matters; shared power is a valued goal; moderation and equal access to resources are things to strive for, “we should all have equal houses. They should all be standard sizes.”

As teachers, we were excited by these comments. The children gave voice to the value that collectivity is a solid, energizing way to organize a community — and that it requires power-sharing, equal access to resources, and trust in the other participants.

With these agreements — which distilled months of social justice exploration into a few simple tenets of community use of resources — we returned the Legos to their place of honor in the classroom.

Children absorb political, social, and economic worldviews from an early age. Those worldviews show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings. We believe that educators have a responsibility to pay close attention to the themes, theories, and values that children use to anchor their play. Then we can interact with those worldviews, using play to instill the values of equality and democracy.

I shudder to imagine a world where all structures are the same standard size, where there is no private ownership and no personal accountability, and where every decision has to be arrived at by a consensus among a bureaucratic group or committee. In fact, I am witness to such a spectable quite regularly in the socialist style of housing quarters and housing societies in Mumbai, for example, the Bank of India housing society, the Air India quarters, etc. These are gated communities of exactly the same kind of structures, all of drab colors, unimaginative architectural design, and corroding bodies that are rarely mended due to the lack of personal accountability and endless bureaucratic processes.

Contrast this image with the spectacular skylines of any American city–bastion of free and private ownership, incredible skyscrapers–each proclaiming its pride and individuality–and breathtaking architectural achievements.

To end this rather disturbing post, I’ll quote John’s distillation of the matter in his simple rhyme:

I see a little Howard Roark,
Banned from building his own New York,
Held back from letting his towers rise –
All must be a standard size!

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3 Responses to “Lego Lessons in Collectivism”

  1. Luis said

    Ugh. It’s disgusting what those teachers are doing!

  2. Julia said

    Seattle huh? Are you sure they dont live in Venezuela? People does has a strange concept of equality and being a human been gets lost at some point of the equation.
    Anyways, I find your blog quite interesting (are you sure you are 25?). No, I haven’t read Ayn Rand or know a thing about objetivism, but I will (philosophy is not my major). Although, Im not very trilled about getting married with a single theory ever, I know she knew like many others, what Im living now.
    Sad to see people everywhere against private property, Proudhon must be happy in his grave. Im done for now, regards, and sorry about my bad english.

  3. Ergo said

    Julia,

    I visited your site, and commend your vocal stand against Chavez and his communist regime. In one (tragic) sense, you are lucky to witness the evils of collectivism and communism first-hand, and truly understand the moral value of individualism, self-autonomy, self-determination, and private ownership. Your experiences surely must have given you a better grip of the truth, which cannot be said of many people who live in the relatively more free countries of Europe and America–they tend to not realize the values and principles that underlie the freedom they enjoy.

    Yes, I am 25 years old, and no, I’m not a philosophy major either.

    Proudhan must surely be happy with these Seattle teachers; indeed, he would want them to go one step further and simply declare that all property is theft, and teach the kids that ownership and property are necessarily immoral.

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