Friday, April 19, 2013

Special end-of-year event escapes scandal after accidental booby contact

A memory from late May, 2002, in Padova
One of the side benefits of teaching 5th graders was that it gave me an opportunity to study, as part of my normal responsibilities, something I was already interested in: Italian history. Our curriculum covered the years of the French Revolution through World War II, all from a European perspective. In order to prepare and augment the lessons, I studied other sources, and so I learned much more than the class did. As we studied World War I, I was struck by all the alliances the nations had formed before the war. Country A agreed that it would defend Country B in the event of war. B would side with C, C with D and D with E. Thus when E went to war with F, all the others were committed as well. Of course F also had its chain of alliances, so nearly all of Europe and scattered other parts of the world were almost immediately drawn into full-fledged conflict. However, there was always the chance that a country would refuse to honor its pre-war agreement or even change loyalties. This reminded me so much of the game of Risk, and I wanted my students to play the game so they could feel the moral conflict involved in being compelled to honor an old alliance made in all sincerity but which no longer served their own interests. I’ve heard stories of players who had almost destroyed long-standing friendships over broken Risk alliances or feelings of persecution by the other players.

However, knowing that the game can last all day, I couldn’t justify using that much class time, so I could only explain the general rules and recommend that they play the game at home. I knew that there is an Italian version called Risiko, though the rules are slightly different. However, my desire to introduce them to Risk sparked my thinking, and I came up with an idea that turned out to be the highlight of the school year, a memorable experience for us all.

I designed a plan to combine a game of Risk with two other group experiences: a cram-session for the school exams and an end-of-the year overnight party. The inspiration for the event came from my 21 years as a high school newspaper adviser, when our final session to put an issue of the newspaper together lasted from after school Friday until late in the evening and often even all night—with lots of breaks for talking, eating and excursions to the store to get more goodies in between the actual work.

I proposed—first to administrators Lucio and Angela—that we have an extended after-school study session, which would then morph into an overnight party, with a game of Risk included as a transition from the actual study time to the fun and games time. Guys would sleep with me in Catherine’s room and girls with Lucy in my room. I thought that Lucio or Angela might veto the plan out of concerns for liability or safety, but they thought it was a great idea. The kids were highly enthused when I shared the idea with them. Naturally the word they picked out most quickly in my explanation was party, but I stressed that the purpose was to prepare for the exams while having a little fun. I continued to emphasize this aspect in the week before the event, but I was well prepared to devote a substantial amount of the event for pleasure. They had studied hard during the year and in truth were ready for the exams without extra study. The purpose of the special session was to make them feel more confident by having extra preparation, to experience the game of Risk, and to reward them for being such a great group.

We focused on study time in the afternoon and ended the work portion with a shortened version of Risk. They were not as patient as I had hoped for during the game, but they did last long enough to experience the conflicts of making and breaking alliances. Parent volunteers provided us with dinner, and we watched part of the movie Pearl Harbor to go along with our study of World War II. Then we played a game called sardines, a variant of hide and seek where one child hid in the dark on the upper floor of the elementary school. Everyone else was a seeker. When a seeker found the hider by feeling around in near blackness, the seeker had to join by hiding in the same place—while trying to resist giggling or making any other sound. After a while, only one seeker would remain, although by the end, it was not difficult to locate 13 other 5th graders all packed together in one place, trying without success to be perfectly quiet.

I had some momentary apprehension when one of the girls screamed out, “He touched my boobies! He touched my boobies!” Was some unfortunate sexual advance going to spoil our evening? But it turned out that the seeking boy had merely had his hands extended in the dark trying to find a small group of hiders. In the darkness, he made contact entirely by accident. I spoke to the girl and she seemed to understand the circumstances completely, but a minute later she yelled out one more time, “He touched my boobies.” I think she may have been enjoying the extra attention just a little. The boy had already apologized and the event did not become an issue.

With the study party behind us, the school exams passed quickly and uneventfully. Examiners pulled students out of the classroom one at a time for oral exams, and upon returning, each student said how easy it had been. Some were even disappointed that they weren’t given a chance to fully demonstrate the vast knowledge they had gained during the year.

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