21 Jul 2022


You Can't Say You Can't Play

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Academic level: College

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In the book titled “ You can’t say you can’t play ,” Vivian Paley uses a unique strategy to enable her probe the moral dimensions of the classroom. Vivian extends her analysis to kids via the fifth grade. Having introduced a new rule of the topic of her b0ook to the kindergarten classroom and solicits the real opinions of older kids about the fairness of such a rule. Employing a unique, brilliant twist, Paley uses a mixture of reality and fantasy, by introducing a new voice into the debate. The paper shall include a discussion how Vivian Paley introduces a new rule to 6-7-year-old children. 

Background Information 

The book under discussion is a full recount of a teacher’s attempts to undo the pattern of exclusion in the kindergarten classroom, the kind of exclusion being referred here is that concerning the rejection which certain pupils undergo whenever they enter other children’s play. It must be mentioned from the onset of the paper, that Vivian Paley teaches kindergarten pupils in a radically diverse classroom at the Chicago Lab School. Nevertheless, all the problems she mentions in her writing could arise in any classroom anywhere globally. The kind of exclusionary behavior discussed in the paper are ones that have aroused the memories of Vivian, touching on her childhood. During her childhood, Vivian experienced a twist of events. Especially that she used to watch her closer classmates making outcasts of her fellow children. The issues that brought exclusion were such as that involving an overweight girl having a singular dress. It is only later, at 60 years of her life, that Paley no longer resists the childhood early memories filled with her current painful empathy with the rest of outsiders. She opts to go beyond the normal practice of making the outsiders more satisfactory to the insiders, in a bid to realize a path to breaking the exclusionary chain without profaning the rest of the children’s sense of judgment, and consequently adulterating the atmosphere of her kindergarten. Year after year, Vivian Paley witnessed that a caste system was slowly developing within each category of her students. This happened because some of the children had earned the status of “being a boss” by their colleagues, thereby granting them the veto power to make rules as they deem fit, create pleasant games, and consequently determine within the circle, who should be allowed to join the group and who should be excluded from such kind of games. 

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After every subsequent year, the occurrence of this drama repeated itself, whereby only the names changed. The activities that went on were simply justified under “You cannot play .” Having witnessed a series of unceasing dramatic exclusion and rejection, Vivian confesses that she is aware of the voices of exclusion going on in the classroom. What irks her the most is the manner in which some children determine the fate of other children. Having been compelled to discover if the exclusion facing one group at the expense of another was inevitable, Vivian went on to post a signal in her classroom with a singular proposed rule of: “You cannot say, you cannot play .” This is well captured in her book where she writes that she and her students underwent an unusually long process to enable them to determine the fairness in such a rule, and the functionality of its adoption ( Paley, 1994)

The Habit of being rejected 

The major discussion contained in the shell of this paper is centered on the theme of rejection. What happens in the classroom of Vivian Paley mirrors what happens in the outside world. Paley is using the small but classic example of rejection in the context of her classroom to show her readers that the world we live in is so cruel and very inhumane. So bad that some people in the society- who feel they have rights- can choose to make rules and dictate who should be favored by those rules and who should not. The same way some pupils rule over others, there are certain personalities in the society who have perfected the art of being “superior” over others and showing the rest that their side of views counts more than that of others. This should not be the case since it brings an unbalanced state of affairs within the people co-existing together. Whether it is in kindergarten, normal school setup, the higher institution of learning, workplace, neighborhoods, or in homesteads, the message found in the content of this text applies to persons. 

I believe that there are certain reasons that compelled Paley to write this book, besides the motive of educating her readers what goes on in schools. In my own introspective, Paley could have observed the American lifestyle and way of doing things. Thus, she asserts that Americans live in an unbalanced society full of intolerance, exclusiveness, and excessively hierarchical. This is because children in American schools tend to learn various forms of social interaction at their earliest ages; something that never reflects the wider moral beliefs of the American society . 

Paley’s Problem to Problem-Solving 

There are various surprising events revolving around Paley’s attitude to problem-solving, especially with the children, thus making the narrative captivating and suspenseful. To illustrate this phenomenon, Vivian is unaffectedly ambivalent and fails to realize how imposing her new rule will function. The new rule is the one that makes the heading or title her book. Vivian goes slowly and takes a longer period of thinking aloud before settling on the rules. At the time of doing this consideration, Vivian does some interesting things. As a means of adding more richness and perspectives of reasoning to her group’s thinking, she proceeds to question the older grades in the school and asks each pupil if, in their opinion, the new book is significant and appealing to them. Since Vivian believes so intensely in human beings’ capacity to feel, think, and communicate via the primordial medium of narrative. All through the long preparation duration, Vivian documents with the help of the tape recorder a lot about what her children reveal to her. This enables Vivian to review and reconsider what is equally instrumental to the children’s group’s memory ( Sewall, 1993)

The social isolation of students in both secondary and elementary classrooms is an important and sensitive topic. The persona of Vivian Paley bespeaks of what instructors, teachers, and coaches within school setups do to other children. There are rampant discrimination and social isolation within many schools across the globe. This trend has hit many potential students by dehumanizing them and making them feel less important and cannot perform as expected. Reminiscent of the experience of most school students, the book dissects social isolation kindergarten students within the atmosphere of the classroom. From the text, it can be seen that Vivian’s classroom is full of bright students who know how to excel in academics but only lack one thing called respect. Vivian realizes that some of her students tend to exclude others from important social activities, games, and lab lessons. The majority of these evident cases entail a child with conditions such as physical appearance, racial discrimination, and disability; thus making them appear to their colleagues as socially unacceptable ( Espelage & Swearer, 2004)

Practicableness of the Text 

The author of this book, Paley, is cognizant of how detrimental rejection is to other children, specifically at a younger age when children begin seeking formal relationships. As a measure of confronting this issue, Vivian presents a new rule in her classroom, stating “ You cannot say you cannot play .” This new stand serves as a restriction to anyone in the classroom not to isolate their colleagues from activities. Vivian goes ahead to document her observations from her kindergarten class, and thus creates fictional narratives to teach her pupils regarding the consequences of social isolation and rejection. Vivian uses a character known as Magpie- a friendly and prudent bird- which models the manners she strives for her students to perform excellently. In her narrative, Magpie is seen befriending other characters who are very lonely and seeking for friendship. Following the advancement of her narratives, students begin realizing that it is very wrong to disregard others from their activities. 

Relation of the Text from Readers’ Perspective 

Reading this text impacts some peculiar sympathy a reader feels towards the students on both sides of the issue. A reader would take solace in the isolated students since a reader would primarily feel for those characters in the text undergoing isolation and rejection, secondly, a reader gets a sense of humiliation by putting themselves in the shoes of those being rejected and isolated. It can be seen that kindergarten students are predisposed at the premature phases of learning behaviors, often sharing with others, and looking at avenues of social identity. These children fail to realize that their peers who they constantly mock and bully could turn out to be people who are significant to them. 

Vivian’s tactics applied in her stories can be perceived to be highly effective and full of creativity. At very young age, kindergarten students fail to respond actively to monotonous lectures and to scold . Nevertheless, they must ascertain the lesson learnt in the course of their schooling. Through taking this approach, Vivian comes to an understanding and self-realization that they have been prejudiced. Vivian’s text can be utilized as a reference for an educator’s research about classroom issues. Since this book cannot be used for dealing with social rejection, it can consequently offer creative ways of resolving any classroom and school-based situation. 

Understanding the Rejection & Isolation Trend in school Setup 

For many years, this veteran teacher studied and noticed an abnormal trend happening amongst her students. For instance, she concluded that every year, some children developed the power to create the games, make the rules, and often decided which of them could play, and which one could be left out. The rule made by Paley was designed to document these children’s reaction to the already made new rule with the help of audio recordings. Come the following year, Paley’s rule was adopted and expanded to apply to all the stages and levels of study in the school. Since that time, the good news is that educators spread across the nation have had to embrace this rule, and some have gone to a greater degree of studying its implications not only on children but to the curriculum and other school activities. 

Though there is no meta-analysis present to date on this rule, some analysts have proven that the rule is meant to improve social acceptance especially amongst children in lower primary and kindergarten. Following the enactment of this rule, many schools have gone to the extent of executing intervention programs amongst their kindergarten pupils mostly centered on group discussion and story-telling. The essence of doing all these is assisted these kindergarteners to become cognizant of the different ways through which the peers are excluded , and resultantly learn proper ways of acting in more acceptable ways. Some studies have found that children put under such programs felt more accepted by their closer peers as compared to the control group ( Beale, 1978)

Another study done by Johnson & Johnson (2002) sought to investigate the perception of teachers regarding inclusive play for the young children. The study found out that there was a need to develop programs to execute the rule, mostly involving training and continuous support meant to assist teachers in communicating the rule to students and dealing with problems that often emerge while their students struggle with inclusive play. Many educationists and parents have expressed their deeper gratification of this rule; stating that it is the most positive way of teaching young kids about diversity and social acceptance. They further postulate that this is one central idea where much research should be carried out and a systemized literature review conducted to allow clarification of all the gains associated with this rule. 

The Pros and Cons of this Rule 

On the surface, it appears that this rule has triggered a certain debate that has its proponents and opponents. On one side, we have the “bosses”- the children who create and make rules for the game and are tasked with the mandate of deciding who can be allowed to play, and who should be rejected . On the other side, there are children who are rejected for one singular background reason or another, and who are viewed as “rejects” likely to spoil the game already created. However, in the middle are those children- joyriders- who are somehow caught in the middle and may just want to fit in and be liked by everybody. Finally, there are those children who fear to stick up for the outcasts due to the fear that one day, they too might be told that, “you cannot play.” 

R eferences  

Beale, H. K. (1978).  A history of freedom of teaching in American schools . New York: Octagon Books. 

Espelage, D. L., & Swearer, S. M. (2004).  Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention . Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates. Johnson, D. D., & Johnson, B. (2002).  High stakes : Children, testing, and failure in American schools . Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 

Paley, V. G. (1993). You can't say you can't play . Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press. 

Sewall, G. T. (1983).  Necessary lessons: Decline and renewal in American schools . New York: Free Press. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). You Can't Say You Can't Play.


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