They don’t know it’s happening, but it is. They certainly don’t see me watching it happen with a critical eye either. Nor do they see me changing, but I cannot blame them for that one: the changing that is happening is an internal one. I cannot blame them for any of them.
My subjects are only five and six years old, and they have no idea that the interactions they have today will, in many ways, affect who they will become for the rest of their lives. My inner anthropologist has reared its head and I can’t help but notice the subtle interactions of social hierarchy that my kindergartners display. They are in an awkward position: they know nothing about what social power means, but somewhere deep in their subconscious, they know they want it.
Already conspicuous consumption is a big part of their lives. It’s never more apparent than on Halloween. It makes me cringe to see them so young already deciding what’s cool and what’s not and forming opinions of their peers based on this. Especially when none of them really understand what it means to be Michael Jackson when they decide it’s not the hip thing. It hurts me greatest when I realize I’m the most prized possession of all.
I am not a teacher and our kids know that. Since it’s hard to explain to students so young what exactly I am and why, they just know me as my buddy’s special adult friend. They know he is different, but they do not really understand why, nor why it demands so much attention from an adult. They’re still young enough that they don’t see the ability gap. They know he is different because we say he is, and because he doesn’t talk often and has so much modified furniture to help his tiny frame fit. Bless them, they do not hold it against him.
They volley for my attention. They ask me questions about lots of things, more so than our teacher. I think they feel more comfortable asking me the random questions since I sit at tables with them, and am with them during carpet time. I occupy this strange in-between place. Not teacher, not student, but someone who acts as both depending on the situation. And that is where my own status endowment comes in: I’m the coolest of the students because I’m not a student.
I don’t know how to deal with this. My Classroom Dynamics class is also on the topic of social status and the influences it has on the classroom. I made a status map of our classroom. It broke my heart how easily I placed some at the top and some at the bottom. They don’t know how in a few years time, the opinions they have formed of each other will determine everything about their school life. They don’t know just how important being part of a clique will be.
I can’t stop it. I can only help it by, somewhat uncomfortably, giving what power I can to the students on the bottom of my list.