schools, trespassing rules, and power

Just imagine any school in Europe during break time (admitting they still have some breaks) , the kids pouring in the yard and playing with that typical noise of children crowd run loose. Just imagine some strange kids wanting to enter from the outside, together with a couple of adults . . .what is the chance the kids  — and the adults — are let in to play? I guess the chance is higher that school “security” call the police, and the police arrives accompanied by social services to check on the parents behavior.

My two-year old son was banging his head against the closed gates of the school complex in Misahualli, in the Napo region of the Amazon forest.

He loves playing balls and he saw quite a few of them on the other side of the gate, together with kids from  5 to about 14  screaming, running and having fun.  His 6 years old brother was a bit more cautious, but clearly would have also loved to share some fun time with the other kids on the other side. My partner and I instead were boringly hushing him away from the gate, telling him the “right thing” : no, come away love, they are at school, we cannot enter, and all the sweet bla bla to transmit to him the “no trespassing rules” that we are accustomed to. Only a couple of months before, our six years old could not play with his own school mates because he missed school in the morning, and this was sufficient to make him an outcast during play time in the afternoon! So, while we were talking and he kept banging his head, a young woman approached the other side of the gate, undid the chain and opened the gate. Unlike us, Ncola did not hesitate and run in. We looked at her and ask with some wonder: “can we get in?”: “Claro que si’” she said.

On what authority could the woman  open the gate for us? She was nothing less that one of the two woman traders who get in the school for half an hour a day during recreation, break time, selling kandies and ice creams.

But her action was subscribed by a care taker who greeted us as nothing had happened, and a couple of teachers walking about the yard and nodding  with a smile to acknowledge our presence. We wandered around the large yard during  break time, the kids playing basketball, handball, and running up and down the slides.

Nicola was a bit puzzled when the couple of hundreds kids around him started to disappear after the bell rang, and kept running after the last kids until the end.

When all have disappeared, he turned the corner to find out that an older boy was still hiding away playing basketball . .we all joined in for a while, until he felt he really had to go and run towards his class. . . .

Transpassing rules are rules that filter access to commons, that define the porosity of borders and therefore the type of relation with the outside world. Without some type of transpassing rules, there would not be any commons, because commons are not open access, but involve some community working out, governing and defining the rules of access. In the nature of these rules as it is revealed when they are implemented, the community show what type of commons they have built, or, which is pretty much the same thing, what types of human beings  they are in relation to “the other”.  This little episode has shown to us how a gate-less school where any body from outside could get in and out is not necessarily the answer to a closed school where nobody from the outside could get in an out. The answer is the power to open the gate exercised by  people of the community, the power of individual judgement (the woman who opened the gate) and  the power of collective control (the caretaker and the teachers observing and, in this case, agreeing with the action). This shared power is really what ultimately enhance our sense of security without at the same time undermining our common sense.

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