I looked at these kids and wondered, when was the last time I saw a mixed age group of kids playing together? Even the 30 something OSCHA kids who were at the pool the previous time we were there were within a year of each other. Which made me think, well, why!? What is it about outside school hours care that needs the kids to be segregated by age? And if they are segregated by age even then, in their holidays, do they ever get to play with kids of different ages?
So I was at the pool with C today, enjoying one of the mid-April warm days we get in Brisbane. Anyway, there was a group of kids about 9-10 playing together. They clearly all knew each other, and 3 of the girls had arrived together, but as C and I were eating some chips it occurred to me that what I was witnessing wasn't necessarily normal.
I always thought age segregated classrooms were the best way to go, and in the example of mass schooling with 24-32 kids in a class, and a national curriculum that does not account for composites or rural schools; it is. But in a different educational setting, the research constantly suggests that there are advantages to the kinds of multi-age classrooms that we associate with one room schoolhouses of the 1800's.
Knowing this, and having read something recently reiterating this point meant questions of age based schooling were on my mind - I looked at these kids and wondered, when was the last time I saw a mixed age group of kids playing together? Even the 30 something OSCHA kids who were at the pool the previous time we were there were within a year of each other. Which made me think, well, why!? What is it about outside school hours care that needs the kids to be segregated by age? And if they are segregated by age even then, in their holidays, do they ever get to play with kids of different ages?
And that led me to the mind-fucking realisation that we split kids up like this from birth, and create a culture that discourages them from making friends with kids in other grades, despite the fact that the kids in the other grades may actually be closer in age to them then their classmates.
If we split kids up by ethnicity, or handed-ness, or hair colour, or spelling ability and then discouraged them from socialising with kids in the other groups, the abnormality and ridiculousness of such a structure would smack you in the face with obviousness.
But we are so used to kids only playing with their cohort that we only question when we see otherwise.
Older kids playing with younger kids are viewed with ether suspicion or pity:
"Oh I don't want my kid to be hanging out with those older kids, they might be a bad influence"
"Clearly she's lacking in emotional maturity to want to spend all her time with younger kids"
Younger kids hanging out with older kids are seen as try-hards, and annoying pests
And in the unwritten rules of the school playground, mixing with kids from another grade is social suicide.
Then there are the actual rules of the playground:
This eating area is for grade 4 only
This playground is only for Prep and grade 1
These sections of the school are out of bounds to anyone below grade 5
Separate lines, or even separate tuckshops for different grades
Grades 1-3 can use the library at first break, grade 4 and up only at second break.
It becomes so institutionalised in us as primary school students that by the time you get to high school the kids self-segregate.
Each grade level (and clique within that grade) stakes out its territory for lunch. Sometimes you keep the spot as you get older, sometimes the spot itself is deemed to be "only" for a certain grade.
High school has a lot more unspoken rules, but there are still spoken rules and cultural conditions that deter kids from mixing with other grades.
Take toilet blocks - I get the need for separate toilet blocks for different grade levels in primary school, the little kids need smaller toilets. But my high school had ridiculous rulings about who could use which toilets. Each building had a locker area and a toilet block. The lockers were assigned to a particular cohort, and the theory was that the accompanying toilet block would match up. Except when it didn't. (Like grade 11 and grade 12.) So if it was lunch time and you needed the loo, you couldn't just go to the toilets closest to where you happened to be. No, you had to go to the assigned ones for your grade, or the one toilet block that was for "everyone" - the tuckshop toilets.
I will never forget the day in the first week of grade 8 I walked into the tuckshop toilet block, only to be confronted by a group of grade 12's who quickly lets me know that 'Veggies' were not welcome. I only ever went back to those toilets a handful of times - when we were using them for an official school thing, like dance performances, and when I was a senior. But even then I tended to avoid them.
Meanwhile if you were in class or changing between classes, you were expected to use the closest facilities. So I really do not understand why they imposed such ridiculous rules in the first place.
I haven't paid that much attention to the toilet hierarchy and rules at schools I've taught at, it's part of the privilege of being a teacher. But I expect there are still unwritten rules, even if the written ones have been abandoned.
Then there are the unspoken/spoken rules around friendships and relationships.
The same cliques appear in each grade of high school, separately. Each grade has it's
"cool" kids, it's "pretty girls" it's "nerds" it's "losers" it's "sports kids" and it's "theatre kids". But if you watch them they rarely mix with the same group from a different year level, unless siblings or romantic relationships are involved.
Girls dating older boys are seen as cool
Older boys dating younger girls as either studs or desperate losers - two very opposite views that depend highly on the social status of the boy in question.
As for girls dating younger boys, or boys dating older girls - well that's just not done. (A girl in my grade did, but she never lived it down.)
Romantic relationships between different aged students brings out all those same stereotyped reactions from teachers and parents too. But as per the kids reactions, these tend to be extremely biased along gender lines
He's too old for you
He's only after one thing
He's a bad influence
He's too immature for the girls in his grade
She thinks she's more mature than she is
She doesn't realise what she's getting herself into
She's being taken advantage of
150 years ago, those same 14 year old girls were married off to men anywhere from 10-30 years older than them and no one even blinked. Now if they date a 15 or 16 year old boy their teachers are TutTut-ing them, and their parents are on high alert.
"It's a big age gap when you're young"
Even as an adult the cultural norm is to date people and be friends with people born within a few years of you. We are told all the time as kids that age differences won't matter when you are a grown up, yet we still think it is weird to date somebody more than 5 years older or younger. We still have derogatory terms like toy boy, and sugar daddy and cradle snatcher, and question the staying power of the couple in question. We ask questions of them we never ask of same age couples
Will their values and life experiences align?
What is life going to be like for the younger one when the older one gets 'old'?
What do they see in each other?
Is there an ulterior motive?
What do their families think?
And as for friendships......do you know anyone who is really good friends with someone from a different decade? Cause I don't think I do! And that's just bizarre, because if it wasn't for the way we are socialised at school, then we probably would be.
Hi I'm Nicole