Learners at Acton Academy East Mountains private school near Albuquerque, New Mexico playing on swings.

April 29: The Most Cooperative Creatures on the Planet

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Who takes care of shared spaces?

It’s a question the studio has explored and struggled with throughout the year.

Didn’t do it has been a common refrain during clean-up time. Not me.

As a guide, it’s been an ongoing challenge to help the learners cultivate a communal mindset regarding cleaning, while also not intervening too much. It’s been a balancing act between satisfying the cleanliness requirements of our lease and allowing the learners to appreciate on their own the value of a communally maintained space.

This session has given us an opportunity to study ants, one of the most cooperative creatures on the planet. For ants, it’s all about the colony, not the individual. The learners were particularly impressed to find out about weaver ants, who use their babies like hot glue guns to fuse together leaves.

I can’t say the learners have shown the same level of selflessness, but they do seem to agree on the benefits of an organized + clean space: increased calm and productivity, etc. While that awareness is helpful, I sometimes wonder if something more immediate, more palpable, is more instructive.

For example:

Recently I opened the door to the studio, expecting it to do just that–open. Instead of it swinging fully open, it stopped halfway–something had jammed in the bottom of it–and my middle-aged knee crashed into the door’s edge.

Since the end of March, the learners have been combing the campus for leftover Easter eggs, and the studio floor has often been littered with pastel eggs and the plastic trinkets inside.

I looked down and past my throbbing knee. A cheap plastic top had wedged into the bottom of the door, 

I showed the banged up knee to the nearest learner. Here it is, I thought, exhibit A in the need to keep the floors spick and span.

It’s just a little scrape, he said.

Overheard in the Studio:

W: Centillion is not a number.

B: Yes it is. It’s like twenty trillion.

H: My mom said I can watch Pennywise if I’m okay having nightmares.

M: If someone died in the universe everytime I said Bro, everyone would be dead.

T: Do you know how satisfying it is to remove a screen protector? You ever done it with a toothpick?

M: The detailed book doesn’t have as much imagination. It’s a branch, only one. The other book has more branches, and you can use your imagination to make it bigger.

M: Do you want to do a challenge to win fifty coins? Dramatic pause. W: I’m listening.

W: Oh my cheese! I left it outside! Runs toward door. Stops. No… no! Noah threw it away!

More questions we’ve explored in the studio:

What is the most dominant creature on Earth?

How are the Indian caste systems like ant caste systems?

Is it natural to have upper, lower, and middle classes in society? Or is that just a product of some people taking advantage of others?

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