I have a few "project-based" book clubs for homeschool children. I love these book clubs. It gives me a chance to work with groups, and facilitate children building knowledge from one another. Since most of the work I do with kids is in one-on-one sessions these days, I look forward to the group dynamics. I am also continuously impressed with the deep thinking the homeschool children show during our discussions. We discuss one book for two weeks. During the first week we dive deeply into a discussion about the book, and during the second week we do a project based on the book. The projects vary from book to book, and I try to make sure each project adds to the depth of our discussion from the week before. Last year when we read The Giver we created our own Utopia. After reading A School for Good and Evil and Harry Potter, they designed their own school, and debated questions like should their school group students by particular characteristic, or allow students to mix. The groups all develop a book list themselves in the beginning of each session, so I am often reading quickly ahead of them to try to come up with a fun, meaningful project.
One of my groups chose to read The Girl Who Drank The Moon. I had never heard of the book before a group member recommended it, but I found it to be a beautiful story with many layers to discuss. The story describes a land with different communities. One community is protected and ruled by a group of self-appointed elders. The other communities are "free". Many of the events in the book come from the assumptions the two communities make about one another.
For our project day, I divided the students into two groups, and gave them each a secret job. One group was told that they lived in a community whose ancestors claimed that they should diligently protect themselves from the evil outside the community. Their community held sacred amulets that protected the world, but every 5 minutes (for the sake of the game I chose 5 minutes, in real life it would have been every year), they would have to sacrifice the amulets to the outside community. They don't know why they have to make this sacrifice, but they do it every year to keep themselves safe. Their challenge during our project was to build a wall of newspaper around their community to keep the other community out. That way, one day they could stop giving up the amulets.
The other group was told that their goal during this project was to become friends with the first community. They were told that this first community is very strange, and although they guard the sacred amulets that protect the world, every year (five minutes) they just dispose of one of the amulets. This puts the whole world in danger. This second community picks up the amulets to protect the world from the amulets ending up in the wrong hands. Their mission was to find some way to convince the first group to become friends, so they could get them to stop throwing the amulets away.
Both groups had the goal of protecting the amulets and keeping the amulets in their original community. But both groups were told assumptions about the other group's intentions, which impacted their actions and how they interpreted the other group's actions.
I wasn't sure what would come of it, but I was pretty sure the game would not last the whole 30 minutes I gave it. I thought the groups would figure out the mutual goal early on. I was wrong.
The groups immediately got to work. The first group picked a small corner, of the room and began creating a newspaper wall to barricade themselves in. Every five minutes the timer would go off and they'd throw out a shiny rock/amulet to the other group. The other group would pick up the rock with confusion and put it aside, while busily making craft gifts and welcome signs. This second group worked hard on trying to find a way to show they wanted to be friends.
Despite all of the second group's gifts and friendly nature, the walled-community held strong inside their tiny area. They had literally boxed themselves in, and although they were getting uncomfortable, and were constantly losing amulets, they refused to give in to the friendly overtures at their gates. A few of their members climbed over the wall and joined the other side, and one wavered from the inside, calling for peace for all. One even asked, "What happens if we don't give you the amulet?" The second group answered, "Nothing! Why are you giving them to us?" But even after that conversation, the first group continued to hand over the amulets, and refused to trust the outside group.
There were many flaws with this lesson, and if I do it again there is a lot I would change. But it was fascinating to see how groups of people can find it hard to accept the good intentions or others, and to blindly accept historical narratives as true. Even when both groups had the same goal, and would be stronger together, they still maintained walls and beliefs that prevented themselves from winning.
When in our daily lives do we fail to see the common goals we share with another person or group because we are so intent on building our walls, or following a plan of action that does not have meaning behind it?