Let’s play a little game

Brendan MacCarthaigh

Dare I recommend PDEs for use in school? (PDE = Psycho Dynamic Exercise.) My hesitation arises out of the criticism I have received for noise and disruption in a classroom, mainly from traditional teachers for whom silence is golden; and our system is peopled by many such teachers, I fear. Anyway, let me present it as a tool you might use for classes IX and upward.

A PDE means, in practice, that you get the youngsters (it works with adults too) to perform some exercise or play some game and then relate the game to life’s realities. For example:

Simple Simon. Your task is to get everyone ‘out’. In case you’ve forgotten, you give simple orders; each one prefaced by Simple Simon says. “Simple Simon says put your hands on your hips.” Everybody does as told. “Hands down!” Anyone who makes even a gesture in this direction is declared out as the words were not prefaced by “Simple Simon”. Your aim is to get them all ‘out’.

Even if you don’t, the ‘psycho’ part is that when the game is declared over, you sit them down around you or on the desks if that’s the only practical choice, and you say something like: ‘Now girls and boys, we’re not here just to play games. I want to ask you, who or what are the Simple Simons in your life?’

They identify things like teachers, parents, traffic rules, customs, and so on. Then you remind them that in the game when they ‘broke the rules’ they were ‘out’. Ask what that means in real life – punishment of various sorts, exclusion, discomfort, etc.

And then comes your punch-line – what Simple Simons govern your daily life that maybe you should, in fact, disobey? They gradually come to recognize things like bad company, cheap popularity, dishonest behaviour and so on. So then, in what way are you now “out”? They may have to pay the price of friends leaving them, obligation to work harder so as to produce honest responses in school work, that sort of thing.

pde-article Allow a lot of interaction among the youngsters, but in the end invite them to identify some specific area where Simple Simon must be abandoned and resisted so as to arrive at greater maturity and independence, even though this will probably be challenging. Give them time to think over this. Maybe they might call it out, or share it in a group, or even write about it.

Another is Fistfight. The class gets into pairs of approximately equal bulk or strength. You call out that they sort out who is 1 and who is 2. Now you say “When I clap my hands, all the 1s close the fists of their strong hand tight and 2s have permission to try to open those fists any way they like.” (You need to be sure that your youngsters are not savages!) Clap!

After a couple of minutes you call halt and changeover. Now the 2s close their fists, while the 1s try to open the fists.

As you observe this PDE in progress you will find that some offer no resistance at all, some offer huge resistance, or impose maximum force. Make no comment. After a few minutes close the game.

They sit – nursing their fingers! Then you select any youngster as 1, and you announce that you are 2. Tell the class to become the teacher, so they clap and your young partner offers her/his fist to be opened. You look, and then say, “Please open your fist.” She/he may agree or not. If not, you make the simplest of efforts to open the fist. If 1 opens, well and good; if 1 clenches still, you give up the effort immediately. End of Round One.

Class gives ‘Go’ clap. Now you clench your fist. 1 may request you politely to open. You accede. Game over. But you may refuse. 1 may attempt to use force. You either continue to refuse (if you are sure of being stronger!) or are defeated. End of Round Two. Now comes the analysis.

They sit in groups, five or six per group. Question: Where it applies, why did I use force? Where it applies, why did I not use force? Listen carefully to their answers.

Most of them will have used force. When they have given all their answers, you now draw their attention to the life situations where they use some form of compulsion to win their way. Examples will be straightforward bullying, blackmailing about pictures, or behaviour, or homework, or goodies of one sort or another. Or you have found yourself stubbornly insisting that the score was 4-2 not 5-2, or that she was wearing a pink dress, not a blue one. And then, show them dramatically that when the fist is finally opened there is nothing inside but a naked empty palm. All you got was a feeling of triumph, when the local chimpanzee could have done it even more effectively.

Remind them that they were not told to open the partner’s fist, only to try. Not necessarily to succeed. But remind them also how many of them resorted instinctively to force, to compulsion, not recognizing the other person’s free will to accede or otherwise. Emphasize how we tend to use force when we don’t get our way, not trying more gentle ways.

Acknowledge also that sometimes force has to be used, but only as a last resort. For example, if someone has stolen your mobile phone and refuses to return it, resorting to the police or other such power agent is permissible and even proper, once the ‘thief’ has proved adamant.

There are many PDEs available, and a teacher can probably design her/his own. The key thing is the transfer of the choices made in the game to the reality of non-game life, the analysis of the choices they have made. The advantage of it all is, the youngster cannot say “I would never do that” because she/he has in fact just done it in the game. That’s where the psycho reminds the youngster that by nature you are like this, so be careful how you handle this factor in your behaviour.

This tool is generally associated in the classroom with your value education lessons. I have found it priceless.

The author is a hands-on educationist and consultant. More than 50 years in India, he has taught in gutters and on railway platforms, in colleges and universities, and heads an NGO called SERVE. He can be reached at macbren82@gmail.com.

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