Monday, March 18, 2013

Dead Log Dialogue

During our visits to the forest, a decomposing tree has been the source of fascination for children. They chip away at its wet bark for long periods, engrossed in scraping away all that they can.

For several weeks, a group of boys has been intent on loosing the tree from its “main support” so that instead of being propped up by one end, the tree will fall flat and roll to a rest.

However on the other side of the tree...

…both a chocolate factory and an archaeological dig (complete with a history exhibit) have been established. Its workers often offer ‘pieces of chocolate’ to teachers and other children, or call them over to look at the newest ‘piece of history’ that has been found.

The projects at either end of the tree continue simultaneously and harmoniously until now, when N. marches to the other side of the tree and demands that the deconstruction stop.  

N: It will squish us all.
L: Then you should get out.
N: We’re trying to keep it.

N. begins to brace the side of the dead tree with branches, claiming that if the boys succeed in their deconstruction, her branches will stop the tree from falling.

Since other boys working on the project have gone exploring in another part of the forest, L. is left both to continue deconstruction as well as counter N.'s arguments. When N. argues that the deconstruction will destroy nature, L. cites the natural cycle of plant life, death and decomposition.

N: It’s part of the forest.
L: It’s already fallen. Somebody chopped this down. It could be [Hurricane] Sandy.

 N., sensing the futility of her arguments, calls on support from other children. They use many different arguments to persuade L., including seniority, the connection that children have with the tree, and the "specialness" of the tree.

N: S. and S. are older than you.
S.S: It’s true.
S.B: It’s true. People like climbing on [the tree], and if people take it down they can’t do it.
L: You could always climb on other things, and make another [climbing tree].

A: It’s gonna be a problem for the kids that they can’t climb this.
N: This is an animal habitat.

L: You can always plant more.
S: But this is a special tree, people come down here [to this part of the forest] for this tree.

When other boys return from an exploration and continue to deconstruct the main support with L., O. offers a new argument. 

O: It’s our project that we started, and so we have to finish it. Just like in the Iliad, he started the war and he has to finish it.

The Deconstructors are not allowed to continue deconstruction while there is another child either climbing the log or on the side of the tree to which it will fall. After they explain this to R., he becomes interested in the debate and makes a conscious choice to sit on the log in protest. 

He continues his sit-in until everyone is called to line up.

Only towards the very end of our time in the forest do any of the children come to me, as the teacher, for an intervention. Although I have been watching and listening to the dialogue for about two hours-- taking pictures, asking questions and reminding children of the safety rules--they do not ask me to solve their debate. Finally A., frustrated that the boys continue their deconstruction without seeming to hear her, asks me for help. Now that I have been officially invited into the dialogue, how should I proceed? How can I use my skill and to support the discussion without overriding it or dictating where it should go? 

I decide that before next week's Forest Time, I will invite all of the interested children to a "summit meeting" in order to open up discussion and help each side lay out its argument. 

-Posted by Mauren Campbell 


  1. It is so interesting, and I think wonderful, that the children did not ask for your input sooner. I look forward to hearing about what happens next.

  2. I cannot wait to hear what happens next!

  3. This is fascinating. The conflict is, of course, an ancient and important one about development versus preservation, but I love that the debate is allowed, even encouraged, to continue without an overlay of adult morality, reasoning, or righteousness. The sit-in takes my breath away. I hope that the children can, at some point, think about the power of this act of passive resistance.
    I am also struck by how many habits of mind are being developed through the working out of this sort of conflict. Of the sixteen habits we often talk about trying to help children learn, I see at least nine at play here: Persisting; Managing Impulsivity; Thinking Flexibly; Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations; Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision; Creating, Imagining, Innovating; Responding with Wonderment and Awe; Taking Responsible Risks; and Thinking Interdependently. Wow.

  4. Wow-how compelling, on so many levels. I am struck by the children's perspectives and how each of them are respected and seemingly listened to. Imagine if grown-ups were able to do just this-what a different world it might be. Kudos to Mauren for just observing and documenting. Beautiful documentation of a process, I'll be eager to hear where it goes next, thank you.