When Lies are Lovely

I’m really lucky this term. On Fridays I am working in a primary school. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching secondary too – but primaries are brimful of a joy that is hard to achieve in a larger environment buzzing with hormones. So I’ve been having a jolly time working with Years 3 and 5.

Some weeks ago, there was a spat on twitter about role play in which it was described as lying to children. Having just spent several weeks telling my youngest that the red light on our alarm censor was Santa’s CCTV camera, I was pulled up very much as a liar. But I justified it because for a few weeks, he went to bed when asked and brushed his scummy teeth. Ends justified the means. But is it ok to lie to children in school?

Well, if you’re skilled at using role play, your really don’t have to. Starting sentences with ‘can we agree that this represents’ or ‘we’re building a story today…’ or ‘if’ mitigates the possibility that children might be conned. There was once an awful example of a school in Blackburn where children were taken into a room while staff let off fireworks outside. The head told the children that WW3 had broken out. And unsurprisingly, the children were very upset. That’s pretty stupid in my book. But to use fiction to entice, to stimulate, to (shock, horror) engage children in learning? That’s just a good thing to do. So….

Year 3 have been pupils in a school for wizards. When they put on their wizard hats, they are wizards. When they take them off, they are human beings. They seem to have grasped this concept well. They are learning science. And in the next few weeks, they’ll be learning about the human body and brain. They think it’s funny that we pretend not to be human when we’re wizards, but it’s been a useful device. On Friday, I told them that we’d be looking at ‘muggle’ brains soon.

“Is that offensive to humans?” asked their class teacher – seeding our planted question. Off we went into a discussion about whether or not we should call people who are different to us names. The children, working in a multi-cultural school, were sensitive to and aware of the many ways their cultures were described by others. No, they decided, it is not OK to call humans ‘muggles’. It might offend.

We continued, in our lab to dissect a ‘wizard brain’. Of course, the children knew it was made of jelly and strawberry shoestrings and jelly worms and lots of glitter inside a hard boiled egg. But they suspended their disbelief and conducted investigations nevertheless. Here are some of their findings presented back to the class:-

” At the top of the brain, there is this hard sparkly section. It has to be hard so that all the magic in a wizard’s brain doesn’t escape and cause problems.”

“This red section is what makes a wizard brave. When danger is near, these (the strawberry shoelaces) are connections carrying messages around the brain and the wizard’s brave brain starts to work so he can think properly.”

“This green section is where all the learning is stored – when a wizard is born, there is no green section, he has to build it up so that he learns how to do magic – it’s hard building up the green section, they have to spend ten years in school, working hard to get it.”

“This section (the hard boiled egg, filled with glitter) is what a wizard is born with. The glitter inside is all the potential that he has so that when he has learned and got brave, all that magic can come out and be used for something good”

Me: Are all wizards born with the same potential

Children: “yes, but they have to work hard to get it out.”

Now I know this is playful – fun, some might say, but I have a load of material to build on now, because when we look at the human brain, we are going to be talking about growth mindsets, potential and resilience a lot. The children have already decided for themselves that these are important. They’ve made my job easy. What a lovely lie.

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13 thoughts on “When Lies are Lovely

  1. “If you are skilled at role play you don’t have to” – quite right. This is something I feel very strongly about as a teacher educator… One of the issues is that it can be hard to convince teachers that “JUST pretending” can so much more powerful for learning than JUST the real … You’ve just inspired me to repost an article on my own blog that I wrote back in 2009. http://mantleoftheexpert.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Borat-FINAL-copy.pdf

      1. If ever one needed evidence that teaching is art/craft rather than just a science this post is it. Wonderfully put.

        ps……you are of course correct in not outing the anonymous twit(s) to which you refer.

        I am assuming that someone who tweets is called a “twit” and not a “twitterer”.

  2. Wizard school sounds wonderful! I’m a teacher and a (bad) dad. I’ve made a point of lying to my children from an early age (Sea plugs/milkshake cows/the existence of the invisible potto etc.) They ask questions, they call me out if they think I’m concocting a whopper, they have learnt to ask for evidence, they love it. Healthy, fun questioning.

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