Village is always tough when it rains. We moved the workshop inside (thank you Nuthatches for tolerating our endless hammering!) and had a fun indoor land time. Many peeps have been working on their businesses and land time is the only time to test your product ideas and pricing.
With house building in full swing it's a good time to talk about the skills students work on in the wood shop. All students are expected to build a structure. Just getting the wood to make the structure involves many steps - creating a house plan, breaking down the house into its pieces, finding the area of each piece, using a T-square to mark the wood on a large panel, cutting out windows and doors, painting (and cleaning up paint…), nailing each panel to a post and connecting the pieces, figuring out how to put on a floor, installing hinges, and shingling. Each of these steps has multiple sub steps.
And, of course, things rarely go as planned. Students constantly have things go wrong. Today I saw a child whose design called for large windows snap his wood when the border wood around the window was too thin. He looked at the piece without talking for a few moments, clearly frustrated. Then he let out an audible sigh and said to himself, "Well, maybe I can take a thin piece of wood and connect the two pieces."
Being able to recover from set backs and think flexibly about one's plans are crucial to success in the wood shop. We also need to be creative problem solvers. Students often have a vision of what they want and it is sometimes very complex. How do create a pyramid or a smiley face window or sliding doors? There is no handbook. There are no blue prints. We work together as true partners to find solutions. The work is very authentic. We are not leading the students to a pre-ordained conclusion we are finding it together. The same is true, I suppose, of all of Village.
Other Village News:
A newspaper is in the works. Students have decided on their assignments - opinion (not surprisingly), comics (also not a surprise), gossip, sports (we have 2 professional leagues this year!), news, politics and the ever-popular "contests"
We have cash! A team of currency designers has put at least 4 different anti-counterfeiting features in place from micro-priting to reflective inks. Today we had an important mini-lesson on the difference between cash and checks. There are a lot of benefits to cash - but it can really be hard when you lose money. Land time business really seemed to pick up. Immediate gratification is so much easier when you don't have to fill out a check.
Late in the day today, a patent law was passed in Peepsburg. Students are allowed to protect an idea by filling out a form and those who copy will be asked to pay a fine. But just what can you patent? One student wrote down that he was gong to copyright "stuff." How specific do patents have to be? Why do we have them? How close does something have to be to be a "copy" What if you had an idea first but someone else copyrighted it? Does everyone have to follow the copyright or only the people of Peepsburg?
Also, rumor has it that the Queen of Ho Chi Mini City passed a law (she has that power) late in day that may benefit a Peepsburg resident at the expense of a Ho Chi Mini resident. (She was petitioned by the Peepsburg resident.) Is this O.K? Shouldn't the queen act in the best interest of her subjects? Does the queen have an obligation to her subjects? Seems like it might be time to dust off our copy of the Magna Carta.
Stay tuned! - MMM
The citizens of Peepsburg were much relieved after their meeting with Simon today. The nervousness in the room was palpable as Simon arrived and began going through the proposals that citizens had submitted in order to get their land back. Having led village before, Simon was able to seamlessly move into the flow of the game. He began by sharing his own experience as an adult having to deal with deadlines and contracts and the consequences that can come of not meeting one's obligations. Then, he explained the role that the village land agreement plays and why it's an important part of the game (calling on village history to provide examples). Next, he read each proposal to the group and used them to lead a discussion that ranged across a number of really important topics. One proposal came from two students who offered to bring Simon coffee each morning. This led to a discussion of bribes and corruption in politics. First, Simon asked the students to reflect on that and offer their thoughts about whether that's a good idea. Some students thought that it was, and that Simon should enjoy this perk. Others thought that it was problematic that certain people would seek access to a person in authority in order to earn themselves some advantage. One person made the point that the villagers were really worried about losing their land and having the game end, which made them feel pretty desperate. There were many signs of agreement to that statement, and Simon acknowledged that desperation can cause people to go to great lengths. We were lucky to have had Pedro, a St. Olaf student who has been volunteering and learning about village, present at the meeting. Pedro is from Venezuela, and he spoke eloquently about corruption and the toll it can take on a government.
Other proposals offered such amends as paying fines, working for free in the village store, and picking up trash on the school grounds. Before he rendered his decision, Simon asked for people to reflect on the whole situation and what they had learned. Students spoke about having learned how important it is to honor one's commitments, pay attention to deadlines, and support each other with both. Finally, Simon announced his decision. He said that he would accept a fine of 50,000 gnomes (our new currency) from the town fund (this was half what was offered in the proposal of the kids who had stayed in the meeting yesterday to write one) AND 15 minutes of trash pick up on the Prairie Creek grounds. Simon made it clear that he wanted the solution to extend to the whole Peepsburg community, and that if the town didn't agree to his terms, then more discussion would be needed. (At this point, more discussion was surely the LAST thing the kids wanted. They have spent several hours on this issue already, and they are eager to be back to the game). Simon then left, and our president led a discussion and vote on Simon's proposal. An official document was drafted and signed by everyone in the town, and we spent 15 minutes after lunch in our grounds clean-up. At long last, order is restored. (Much to my teacherly amusement, the official document was signed and then abandoned on a table in the Robins. There was, as usual, no plan to deliver it to Simon. They are still fourth and fifth graders, after all.)
In another post, I need to write about the evolution of the Peepsburg government. One of the outcomes of the past few days' upheaval is the switch to a government with a president, vice-president, and cabinet. If your child is in Peepsburg, ask how aware she/he is about this change and how she/he feels about it. CTO
The text of the law reads: "If you have a P.U. class, you're still in the meeting."
In a direct democracy, it's always a problem that you lose your vote if you leave the meeting. But peeps need to leave the meeting in order to do all the other things that they need to do: build their house, work on their business, and, yes, attend Peep University classes. I found this a particularly amusing solution to the problem. --CTO
So the drama continued today. No sooner had the Peepsburg town meeting begun to talk about how to appease Simon and get the land back than some of the citizens began to drift away to work on their houses, visit the store, and do other personal business. In Peepsburg law, citizens may leave the meeting whenever they wish but they lose the right to vote that day.
Almost half the students left the meeting, leaving it to the remaining students to find a solution to save the land. As members of the Federal Government, we found this turn of events alarming. The students in the town, loathe to upset friends, were willing to continue to work (and work) to find a solution but we demurred. Peepsburg currently has a direct democracy. Every person and peep has one vote. For something as important as a plea to save the land it seemed that every peep should be involved. For their solution, the students had decided to offer Simon about a third of the town's money in order to secure the land again. We allowed only the students who were present to sign the proposed contract. After all, one cannot sign a contract for another person. Those people who had opted out of the government would have to find their own way to appease Simon.
It took a while for the students to figure out what was happening. Those who had left the meeting were angry about being left out of the solution. They began to create signs such as"Give Us Our Land Back! We Have Rights!" (I wrote a personal reply to that sign - the only right that is guaranteed in the game is the right to vote and the students gave that up when they left the meeting.) Students felt that the other citizens were celebrating their plight when in fact, many of the Peepsburg folks in the meeting were very upset that their friends might lose their land.
The situation seemed to mirror some of our own elections in which people are frustrated with what politicians are doing but don't themselves vote. A central (perhaps the central) learning of Village is that democracies only work when there are involved, informed citizens. We must engage if we are to have a government that works. We must pay attention and we must speak up. The Peepsburg citizens who left the meeting learned the hard way that without an organized representative government, one cannot assume that one's views will be represented.
Eventually things calmed down. Some citizens of Ho Chi Mini City were looking for a way to help and thought they might offer shelter for homeless peeps. The Peepsburg peeps who had left the meeting began to write their own proposals. Since they did not have access to the town's money, they had to think of other ways to secure the land again.
Tomorrow, all of the proposals will be given to Simon who will sift through them and decide what to do. With any luck, students will not only be granted back their land but also a new understanding of their role in a democracy.
The day started out great…until Simon came into the Robins, glanced at the Peepsburg Land Agreement and noted that the deadline for the scale map had been missed and the consequence, clearly stated in the contract was that the town's land was forfeited. Needless to say, the citizens were agitated.
Some gleeful Ho Chi Minians called out, "Take their land!" They were later chastised for possibly antagonizing a neighboring country and necessitating an expensive military defense.
An emergency meeting was called and many options considered. It wasn't clear initially how it had happened. Two cartographers had volunteered and had very diligently completed the scale map on time. Somehow it never got delivered to Simon.
One of the themes that comes up again and again in Village is the necessity for specificity and clarity in communication. What is going to happen? Who is going to make it happen? When is it going to happen? It takes a while for students to figure out what makes a complete proposal and to anticipate all of the possible pitfalls. In this case, not all of the blanks had been filled in the proposal and, consequently, no one knew what to do.
Peepsburg currently has a government of attrition meaning that anyone can come and anyone can leave. There is no single group who must be present and, therefore, there is little continuity between town meetings. A group can say something during one session and no one knows it was said during the next session. This is a dangerous form of government. It is easy to abuse (just stick around until no one else is there to object to one's corrupt motions) and, if it isn't abused, it is rarely effective. We can't just leave decisions to those who are willing to hang around. It's a key lesson for being a citizen in a democracy.
Peepsburg citizens were contrite (well, with the exception of the three who immediately upon hearing of
the town's troubles decided to try to immigrate to Ho Chi Mini City). They had a very serious and rich discussion about what happened and how to fix it. The game ends if you lose your land…how could they avoid that? Gabe led the discussion and shared some ways that Simon might be still be satisfied and let them keep the land. They have until Friday to put together their proposal for Simon, laying out a new land agreement. We shall see.
Peep Unviersity classes are going well. So far peeps have learned about interior design, wonderful
windows, marketing savvy, wall papering, campfire magic, construction principles, calligraphy, and food safety. Teaching a class is a wonderful way to get involved in the game.
The first houses are out on the land. The baseball teams have had an exhibition match. And many businesses are off the ground.
Village is now in full swing. Almost everyone has wood cut so the woodshop is busy with people painting and cutting out windows. Many folks are working on starting businesses (or working long hours at their federal government jobs). This afternoon, the upstairs rooms were humming busily along and I got a chance to take some pictures of the myriad activities going on.
The latest developments? Both villages want to trade with each other but are unable to do so because of their different currencies. Ho Chi Mini City passed a law to create a shared currency called the gnome. They then presented the idea to Peepsburg which accepted the law. All commerce stopped today for a bit while the bank completed all outstanding transactions and shifted all bank accounts over to gnomes. (1 gnome = 1.33 Peepsburg dollars = 1 Ho Chi Mini City dollar) There will be a few hiccups during the transition but once finished, all peeps will be able to trade with each other. We presented a mini-lesson on the Euro today to help explain what was going on. Personally, having wrangled with our bank spreadsheet during this currency conversion I can't even imagine how they did the Euro.
Peep University classes are available for sign up. Students have to manage their time and keep track of the classes they have signed up for. They take the responsibility seriously and carefully consider their schedules. Many are trying to earn a PhD for which they'll need to take 9 courses and write a dissertation (thankfully it's to 1/24th scale.)
In the second picture, some proud cartographers are sharing their scale map of Ho Chi Mini City. Both villages had to get a map to Simon by noon today in order to keep their land. Figuring out who and how to get the job done is one of the challenges the government faces. The cartographers of Peepsburg had a much more difficult task. The Peepsburg village is in the woods and claims were staked wherever the peeps wished to stake them (as opposed to the perimeter grid system of Ho Chi Mini). The students persevered, however, and got all of the plots documented.
In the current Peepsburg government, a president runs the meetings and everyone has an equal vote. However, townspeople can leave the meeting at any time. When they leave, they lose their vote for the day. At one point, there were only four or five students left in the meeting. Cathy sidled up to them, "Do you have any idea how much power you have?" Sometimes, students in these situations vote themselves a huge monetary bonus or make a rule that excludes the rest of the village. Those who left the meeting are outraged…but they learn perhaps the most valuable lesson of a democracy: we must pay attention. This time, however, the unwatched government was bent on passing just laws and helping the village work well - perhaps another time.
As I left school today during a pelting downpour, there were some anxious faces pressed against the windows looking out toward the Village land. Both villages had their land rush today and many peeps were spending the night on the land in primitive shelters. Once a peep has joined the town, he or she must stay out on the land over night. This gives the student a natural impetus to get their water proof/squirrel proof houses finished and out on the land.
One of the first decisions the town makes is how the land should be divided and how individual peeps will get land. We often share the story of the Oklahoma land rush in which hopeful pioneers waited behind a line for a cannon to signal the start of a mad dash for land. Those that waited for the official cannon were called "Boomers". Some folks cheated and waited out on their chosen land, popping up to claim it as soon as other pioneers entered the area and they were called "Sooners."
The details of the mechanisms of laws often evade students who make proposals, especially at first. Both villages had land rush statements that roughly read, "Each peep will get ____ amount of land. The land rush will be held on _____________." Ho Chi Mini City, splayed out on a grassy field, opted to organize all of the available plots along the perimeter. Peepsburg decided to let everyone choose their own.
The two villages dealt with the lack of particulars in their initial proposals differently. Queen Elinor, alerted to the need for more details by several astute citizens, simply passed a law this morning stating that peeps would stand five feet from the land and would then run for the piece they wanted and they would place a popsicle stick on their land. Peepsburg simply went to the land. Once there, peeps just chose an area that was still empty and looked good. Conflicts were solved immediately by rock/paper/scissors. Both methods worked. Peepsburg may have difficulty identifying a town center if they want one (or a public transit route for that matter.)
In other news, Peepsburg elected a president and vice president. These positions hold no additional power but the president has become the moderator of the group. Ho Chi Mini City passed a health care law covering half the cost of any peep that was hurt accidentally or by another peep. This is important since DNA material is very, very expensive.
Every year we start village the exact same way - almost to the word. We all take a pipe cleaner, bend it in half and create the bones of our peep. Then we wrap the peep's bones with yarn. Then carefully craft a head, making sure to put a hole in the base for our neck…it's amazing that something that starts in such a predicable, ordered way can branch off, by day two, into completely new and different directions.
This year each village was granted by the school a square of land 24 human feet on a side. One village is on the field (with a little bit of desert scrub on one side). The other is in the adjacent woods.
Will Schroeer, a parent who works on urban and transportation planning, came in to talk with the students about what makes a village a village and what choices they might be able to make. With his guidance, the students brought up a lot of interesting ideas about the role of the city and what they might think about when developing their village. Many of the concepts were brand new to students who hadn't thought about why some cities are laid out in grids and some have walls around them. It will be interesting to see how the ideas percolate in the villages this year.
Initially, all of the town's citizens have to meet every morning in a town meeting. The meeting is run by a moderator (initially Flora Fauna, Cathy's peep and Gus E. Gottaway, my peep) who uses modified Robert's Rules of Order. Students make proposals, offer friendly amendments, and move to vote. This year, both villages' first proposal had to do with naming. Village B voted to name themselves something than "Village B" and that something could not include the word "pineapple" or "Da Bomb" (two left over grievances from last year.) However, the proposal did not include a time for the name choosing to happen so the law passed and then we went on to another order of business. One of the first things students learn is how important it is to offer complete, specific proposals.
Town A ended up in a heated debate. The name "Twelve" was chosen by plurality (the most votes) in a multiple name election. (And no, "Twelve" does not have any special meaning. It as random.) The next proposal stated the name should be changed to "Into the Woods" or "Peepsburg" to be determined by a majority vote and that any further changes to the name would need a supermajority to pass. This proposal was made a law after one student pointed out in an impassioned speech that "Village was a game, not a joke" and the name should have meaning. Peepsburg became the new name and the Twelve faction was irate. After all, they felt they had won fair and square. Indignant signs were made (and torn down) prompt a debate about free speech.
Town B was having a quieter time of it (perhaps because many of its citizens had migrated to Peepsburg in search of shade). They passed a law allowing immigration but capping the human population at 30. Then they took away the citizenship of any peep who had chosen to go to Town A's first meeting (which ended up being a moot point since Town A passed an immigration law that allowed the five Town B citizens to immigrate.) They then set up a plan to put 2' x 2' plots around the perimeter of the land and hold a land rush on Thursday.
Today they set up a constitutional monarchy in which they elected a monarch who could choose two advisors and make laws when the parliament was not in session. The parliament was made of five elected officials who would call a town meeting when they felt a decision significantly affected the entire town. The monarch can be deposed by a consensus of the parliament. Initially the proposal mandated that the queen was to be E.U. and I explained that monarchies are seen as being given their right to rule by a higher power (and that, traditionally, since the Magna Carta they have a responsibility to protect their citizens.) But the people of Ho Chi Mini City were not willing to accept a monarch they had not chosen. They set up an election to be held and anyone who wanted to be monarch was told to write a paragraph explaining why they would be a good choice. E.U. was the only one who wrote a paragraph and thus became the queen. Fate works in strange ways.
Will Peepsburg stay Peepsburg or will it revert to Twelve? Will Ho Chi Mini City stay Ho Chi Mini City even when the citizens figure out that they've named themselves after a communist leader with a very sketchy human rights record? Will the queen abuse her power? Will there be restrictions on political speech? Is it "peep abuse" when you're throwing your peep up into the air but the peep is having fun? And how much will the sparkly wall paper cost in the store? Tune in next time...
I went out to the land during a break in the rain this weekend to check on the houses. It's amazing how real the game can become, even to a grown up like me. I closed a few doors and put the roof back on one house - there was a little damp carpeting and a few wall paper bubbles but everything else was pretty sound. The students were given the option of taking houses in but many didn't; there is a sense of wanting to play the game out fully this year.
Trash collection is a perfect example. In the last blog entry I mentioned the litter problem. The Peepopolis town managers wanted to address the problem in Peep scale. They also wanted to think all the way through where the trash should go - something I can't remember being an issue in many villages. Should the town have a landfill? (Who would want it near their houses?) should we just dump it in the school? (A town can't just dump their stuff in another town's landfill, though.) Finally, they decided to go to Simon to request permission to put our trash in his land fill (the dumpster). He agreed and talked to the managers how the school gets rid of its trash, compost and recycling and how much the school pays for that service (he thought they should ask for a raise!)
This has been, so far, a remarkably peaceful and productive time in Peepopolis. The council finally had two "controversial" proposals for which they made a list of pros and cons which they took to a full town meeting. Both proposals - one to bring a rocket launcher through customs for $20,000 and one to provide solar lighting on the public land - passed easily (they were deemed controversial because of their cost.) Peeps have been too busy with their businesses to get into many conflicts. The system to deal with conflicts is pretty straight forward. If the council believes that you have hurt your peep on purpose, you and your peep must go to a peer mediation session led by Gus. Theft is also handled by the council, but all but one dispute was handled between peeps before the council has gotten involved.
I have to wonder if the structure of the government is contributing. Often, governments are overthrown in Village because students chafe at not having a voice or not agreeing with decisions that are made. This council structure mandates that anything folks are likely to disagree with is brought for a full town vote (fourth and fifth graders are often OK. with their choice not being picked as long as they get to vote.) Towns which spend a lot of time developing many laws mandating behavior and systems of courts, juries, police and punishments often are very litigious. Peepopolis has a minimal judicial system and very few laws that deem behaviors illegal - and people seem to be going about their work with little conflict.
We had an interesting talk about the difference between something being "illegal" and something being wrong. There are many things that we do because they are the right thing to do, not because we are forced to do them by law. At Prairie Creek, we often call this "the spirit of the game." Students were very thoughtful about the letter of the law compared to its spirit. The conversation came up because, technically, students are allowed to claim materials others have not cleaned up, including things on the floor. In practice, however, we are all busy in village and we all sometimes drop things or forget to clear a table. The "right" thing to do is to try to find the owner of lost things, not just swipe them up and say, "Finders keepers." Village is a time to explore how a society can develop norms - not just through its laws but also through the conversations among citizens and the work that the government does.