I work for an after school program called Sports and Arts. It is a program run by a community organization designed to keep kids in the schools and off the streets. As such, they occupy the kids in the school late into the night. The kids who are involved are generally a self-selecting group, so that they probably aren’t the ones who would be on the streets anyway. I work for Sports and Arts, which is until 5:30, and designed to provide academic enrichment.
Generally it devolves into playing cards or other games and the 7th grade girls sitting around and gossiping about the 7th grade boys. Another teacher who does it takes the boys outside most days to play football. I usually play scattegories or cards with the girls and try to convince them not to go outside and watch the boys playing football.
They always try to convince me to go with them outside to watch the boys, and I always refuse, telling them that they shouldn’t go either.
“Don’t just go out there and watch the boys play sports – it’s pathetic! You should be out there playing sports yourselves.” They always pause to consider this, and then agree with me, as though I’ve made a monumental point. About 5 minutes later they leave my room to go outside and watch the boys. I tell myself that empowering them will take baby steps, and let them go. After all, what 7th grade girl doesn’t want to stare at the boys playing football, no matter how rarely those boys actually catch the ball.
When we’re in my room, I hand out decks of cards that I buy at the dollar store. They don’t know how to play any games. Another teacher has Uno cards – and the boys play very competitively. I join the game and find myself confused – the rules they are playing by are no rules that I’m familiar with, and I’ve got a lifetime of Uno playing under my belt. They seem mystified as to why I am arguing with them about the rules – they have agreed upon these rules, and why would I challenge them?
“There are real rules! This game isn’t just made up!” I always argue, frustrated, and they shrug and don’t invite me to play the next time. With the regular playing cards I teach them games that are simple and ones that are complicated – but all of the games that I teach them were a part of the fabric of my childhood. Bullshit, Spit, War, Egyptian Rat Screw, Gin Rummy, Sweep – they struggle to grasp all of the games.
“How can you not know these games?!” I always ask, thinking of the countless hours I spent mastering them.. They all look at one another, and then look at me, and as usual I am the odd man out. They are 12 or 13 and just sort of skipped those years of childhood. They can write checks and cook dinner, but somehow that doesn’t put them ahead of the kids who can play cards – and in the future I feel sure that the kids who grow up with card games in their lives will have the advantage.