Seattle School Bans Lego – For a Bit – to Teach About Sharing, Power and Community

(and yes the plural of Lego is still Lego)

When I was a kid we were at an arts and crafts fair that was set during the frontier days of the midwest. There was a barter trading area where kids could trade useless crap for other useless crap. I realized that since they had pinecones as a currency I could simply pick up pinecones from outside the barter area and bring them into the economy, thereby reducing the value of the currency and pillaging the merchants. I think I would have tried similar wildness with this:

In their Rethinking Schools article, teachers Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin describe how the kids at Hilltop built “a massive series of Lego structures we named Legotown.” I sensed that something was rotten in the state of Legotown when I read this description of it: “a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places.” The root cause of Hilltop’s Lego problem was that, well, the kids were being kids: There were disputes over “cool pieces,” instances of bigger kids bossing around little ones, and so on.

From the teachers’ essay:

As they closed doors to other children, the Legotown builders turned their attention to complex negotiations among themselves about what sorts of structures to build, whether these ought to be primarily privately owned or collectively used, and how "cool pieces" would be distributed and protected. These negotiations gave rise to heated conflict and to insightful conversation. 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.

So they banned Lego building (for a bit).

Yup – they banned Lego from the classroom.

The teachers then implemented a new game of Lego trading and had the children realize the inherent politics in the system they were a part of.

As I read more what they did I was impressed with the thoughtfulness of it all but thought that they could have tried some sneakier ways of teaching the kids about the politics and having and hungering.

I would have slowly introduced more of the favorite Lego pieces into the buckets – let the market crash and see what happens. Or give the unpopular kids a bucket of their own that are specially marked and only they can build with them – or they are worth twice as much as the other pieces. I think they could really get inside the relationships without banning the Lego construction al together – all the more valuable to have them learn while inside the environment.

I don’t agree with the share dvalues the teachers were trying to espouse:

"Before, it was the older kids who had the power because they used Legos most. Little kids have more rights now than they used to and older kids have half the rights."

"We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes…. We should all just have the same number of pieces, like 15 or 28 pieces."

I think realistic education would teach and instruct that life is never fair – it should be – and it isn’t and that sucks but it is what you do with that knowledge that makes all the difference.

All structures are public structures.  Lego people can be saved only by a "team" of kids, not by individuals.  All structures will be standard sizes.

That makes me cringe because it drives the creativity out of the process in favor of fairness. Some little rich asshole is always going to have the best Lego pieces in the set – but what if suddenly everyone wants to work with Capsela? (did I just date myself?)

The model of Lego building kids and the citizens of their world is a huge metaphor that you can use to teach just about everything. What if the exchange value of Lego was decided each morning by the roll of a die – have an opening and closing bell – let some kids trade ‘afterhours.’ Have buildings mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night – or have the kids try out eminent domain where part of the Lego world is annexed for classroom purposes. Have a ‘well’ where new Legos come from each day to experiment with non-renewable resources. Or a blight where all the Legos of a certain color have to be quarantined. What if the kids had to deal with ‘branding’ their buildings and two warring brands fight to build the most wanted buildings in the world?

I guess it is always the argument of education – do you teach kids the way things should be ideally – or do you teach them the reality of the world around them? And do you own up to the fact that the games and transactions in childhood games and toys are themselves reflections of and training for the future world these kids wll inhabit?

Rxns from Mefi:

This doesn’t broaden children’s minds, children know how to play and, unless there’s something seriously wrong with them, they know how to share. Kids don’t need moralizing, they need to play and work things out for themselves.


They taught them how to share from each according to their ability, and to each according to their needs. And then they taught them that the State will exert eminent domain over Legoville and destroy it if the workers get out of line.


The only time to have these discussions, to see the forces of acculturation and socialization in action, is in the earliest stages of development…. [t]o deny there are inequalities built into the system is blindness. To refuse to even examine and discuss those inequalities is willful ignorance.






One response to “Seattle School Bans Lego – For a Bit – to Teach About Sharing, Power and Community”

  1.  Avatar

    Color me scared…. Apparently these teachers need to re-read that old high school favorite: 1984. (oh wait, I bet it’s used now as a textbook for social studies… *cringe*)

    There are a multitude of reasons my children are homeschooled, but things like this frighten me. Alot. And the sad thing is more and more people are ok with this line of thought. God help our children and the country we leave to them at this rate… Oh wait, but they won’t know any better.

    I shall take comfort in knowing that my children will likely be a part of the rebellion, not the establishment if this is where we end up.

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