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About You Can’t Say You Can’t Play Pdf
Who of us cannot remember the pain and humiliation of being rejected by our classmates? However thick-skinned or immune to such assaults we may become as adults, the memory of those early exclusions is as palpable to each of us today as it is common to human experience. We remember the uncertainty of separating from our home and entering school as strangers and, more than the relief of making friends, we recall the cruel moments of our own isolation as well as those children we knew were destined to remain strangers.
In this book Vivian Paley employs a unique strategy to probe the moral dimensions of the classroom. She departs from her previous work by extending her analysis to children through the fifth grade, all the while weaving remarkable fairy tale into her narrative description. Paley introduces a new rule–“You can’t say you can’t play”–to her kindergarten classroom and solicits the opinions of older children regarding the fairness of such a rule. We hear from those who are rejected as well as those who do the rejecting. One child, objecting to the rule, says, “It will be fairer, but how are we going to have any fun?” Another child defends the principle of classroom bosses as a more benign way of excluding the unwanted.
In a brilliant twist, Paley mixes fantasy and reality, and introduces a new voice into the debate: Magpie, a magical bird, who brings lonely people to a place where a full share of the sun is rightfully theirs. Myth and morality begin to proclaim the same message and the schoolhouse will be the crucible in which the new order is tried. A struggle ensues and even the Magpie stories cannot avoid the scrutiny of this merciless pack of social philosophers who will not be easily caught in a morality tale.
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play speaks to some of our most deeply held beliefs. Is exclusivity part of human nature? Can we legislate fairness and still nurture creativity and individuality? Can children be freed from the habit of rejection? These are some of the questions. The answers are to be found in the words of Paley’s schoolchildren and in the wisdom of their teacher who respectfully listens to them
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play , by Vivian Gussin Paley
Paley’s short book is a thriller with a mission and constant obstacles. There are factions, heroes and villains, fights, tears and laughter. But—the protagonists are 5 years olds and the setting is a Kindergarten classroom. The unusual cast does not diminish Paley’s chase for a grail, shared with the children who accompany her on the quest. Paley is a gifted writer who lifts these little personalities off the page; the children are as fully realized in their thoughts, questions and hopes as any adult. Indeed, their challenges are easily recognizable as ours.
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play drew me in from the first sentence. We are taken on a journey in a classroom where Miss Gussin Paley, the teacher and narrator, is confronted by a long-standing enemy: Exclusion. We against you. You can’t play. There’s no more room. No. You’re not my friend. When we hear these phrases we cringe because, as Paley repeatedly notes, this strikes to the very core of us. Everyone understands REJECTION, because rejection is one of the deepest wounds a person can feel.
Paley has faced this opponent many times before, but with inadequate results. Long un-satisfied by her previous defense, she watches exclusion rear its unpleasant head again. We watch distressed, alienated children wilt. But Paley realizes she is ready to take the part of hero. Perhaps it is her story of Magpie shared in the book that emboldens her. When she finds another student hiding in the cubbies, she is ready to take action. She enacts a new rule: You Can’t Say You Can’t Play.
Paley flushes out the conflict with a sensitive eye. She believes that when we—as children—are left to prove ourselves worthy of inclusion, we naturally create exclusion. We create the strangers among us. Strangers, from this early age, are given that label and left to embark a lifetime of alienation.
Yet listening to the children’s anecdotes and explanations shared in the book, we realize alongside Paley that this label is largely arbitrary. If one child recognized as a leader excludes another, it’s often for little reason. Frequently it’s based on easy prejudice, or what’s comfortable. They are jealous of their best friend and want no one else to play with them. They have a fixed idea of who they want to play a part or play their fantasy. The rejected children then take on that label by sad coincidence.
However, Paley is certain that when we read the label as arbitrary, changeable, and not inherent to the child’s self, we can erase it. We can stop ourselves, and our children from creating strangers among us. We can recognize each person as a playmate, possible friend, useful partner, and most importantly, an equal part of the group.
The journey Paley takes with her students into the new rule reveals complications and obstructions in the unfamiliar territory. Yet, wonderfully, in this most classic heroic journey, we get to watch these children transform before our eyes. We witness trials, debates and successes until ultimately the grail is reached: You Can’t Say that You Can’t Play is accepted by the group.
It’s a delight to read wonderful examples of how the children’s views expand. Paley learns that the rule develops a safety net allowing the children new freedom beyond reach within the old system. Released from having to prove worthy before the collective, both the popular and the outcasts blossom. Within the protection of the new rule, the children learn to cooperate, share and include in new ways. They learn new language and ways of expressing their needs. They shed expectations and roles. We see evidence of enormous growth and unforeseen change.
Paley’s documentation of the children’s growth, as individuals and as a group should be a must read for any educator. Why don’t I see this rule in the school where my daughter goes? Why is this not universal? That is an inquiry for another quest, and one I intend to go forth and decipher. In the meantime, I highly recommend this book to other parents and caretakers, and hope to hear from others who’ve read it.
Fascinating idea… Paley explores the suggestion of inclusion in this introspective quick read. After years of teaching kindergarten, Paley was frustrated with the exclusion of some children over and over again at play. So she began talking with children about a new idea – ‘you can’t say you can’t play.’ Included here are paraphrases of the conversations she had with her kindergarten class and classes of older students in her K-5 building. It’s fascinating to hear the children talk about their experiences of rejection (which we all share) and their belief about whether this idea could work. [Personally, I’d like to see a world where adults had the same rule, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.] And one of the most intriguing things about this book is that Paley is one of those amazing people who can actually reason with kindergarteners! Her conversations with kids about all kinds of personal issues are included and truly enlightening.
About You Can’t Say You Can’t Play Author
Vivian Gussin Paley was an American pre-school and kindergarten teacher, early childhood education researcher, and author.
She taught and did most of her research at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Despite her status in the field today, she has described the first thirteen years of her teaching career as being an “uninspired and uninspiring teacher.”