GateHouse — It’s generally regarded as a fact of childhood that most kids will have a best friend. They will also have invisible friends. And imaginary friends, some talking animals, a superhero alter ego and at least one fictitious sidekick (mine was Han Solo, obviously, because I was awesome). They will also have several other best friends, several other non-best friends, some regular friends, passing acquaintances, people they sit next to because their last names start with the same letter, bus kids, basic deskmates, nondescript lockerneighbors and at least one arch-nemesis. I had all of these, especially the latter: His name was Chuck, he thought he was smarter than me and we faced off regularly in things like spelling bees, all of which I won because when it came to the primal ferocity of the fourth-grade spelling bee, I was not to be jacked around with.
But as I understood it, that’s what school was for, learning about “The Tempest” and the quadratic equation and covalent bonding and other things that you literally cannot go a day without referencing, but also stumbling around and attempting to carve out some social structure that you will go on to one day to apply to your adult life, assuming you don’t grow up to be someone who regularly comments on websites.
Yet this is apparently not what school is for in Britain, because as everyone knows school in Britain is about one thing only: defeating Lord Voldemort. Indeed — or I guess “prithee” or “to wit” or “I say dear boy” or however British people write transitions, I feel like it should include the word “fortnight”— in a story that almost certainly contains layers of subtlety and is born from psychological research but has been boiled down to “KIDS NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE BEST FRIENDS” in America, where most news is delivered in four-word increments adjacent to articles about actors who resemble cats, schools in parts of England have banned kids from having best friends. (The kids are instead encouraged to interact in larger groups.)
This is news to me for a number of reasons, primarily that I was already under the impression this policy was apparently in effect in Indiana in the mid-1980s. But also it’s shocking that this policy has seen anything close to the light of day; over here people lose their damn minds at banning things like “giant sodas” and “assault weapons.” But according to the Sun newspaper, the policy has been employed in schools in Kingston, South West London, Surrey, South Farthington, Little Whirlingdishes, Kate Middleton West and Downton Abbey OK obviously most of those are made up but have you ever tried to come up with fake British names for a list joke? God, it’s fun, grab some wine and try it, I’ve spent 40 minutes on this paragraph alone.
“They are doing it because they want to save the child the pain of splitting up from their best friend,” said educational psychologist Gaynor Sbuttoni to the Sun newspaper in Britain, or they possibly stole it out of a private voicemail she was leaving for a colleague, whichever. “But it is natural for some children to want a best friend. If they break up, they have to feel the pain because they’re learning to deal with it.” This brings up a number of compelling social questions, such as: Wait they have education psychologists in Britain? Jeez, in America it’s kind of a huge deal if every classroom has lights.
But if the story is true (there are lots of sensors going off here), Sbuttoni makes a good point: Children must be equipped to deal with loss! This is something we’ve been learning around the house a lot lately, particularly when it comes to my 9-year-old and board games. Just a few hours ago we had a minor breakdown over a scene in a game where I commanded a minotaur to send one of his Lego ninjas back to the starting line, which, trust me, was a PRETTY BIG DEAL. He responded as he usually does when something negative happens to him in a game: Pouting, followed by an attempt at suddenly amending the rules in his favor.
But despite involving both Legos and a minotaur, this game was not that big of a deal; I shudder to think what would happen if my son’s school suddenly announced that it getting its grubby little gubmint fingers all up in his friend-making. I am generally pretty progressive when it comes to most educational topics, especially as they pertain to “teacher pay scales” or “teaching evolution” or “having like everyone carry guns in there for some reason,” but I have to confess to getting all libertarian when I think of someone monitoring my son’s playground activities for excessive companionship. Just step back and let the kids play as they’ll play, at least until it’s time for the Voldemort battle.