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PN #50 The Toy Box Dilemma

The Toy Box Dilemma

by Parish Conkling


Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine that you are a Kindergarten teacher. You have roughly thirty students between the ages of five and six, from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and with various levels of maturity. You suspect that a few may have some learning difficulties, but it is too early to come to a concrete decision. For some time now, these students have been interacting with the toys in the centers and with each other in a more or less peaceful fashion. Over the past few weeks, however, a few of the children have begun using one of the toys in a way which leads to other children being harmed. You have spoken to the children about the correct way to use the toy, and have explained the dangers of using the toy incorrectly, yet the problem persists and other children in the classroom are now being harmed by the toy on a near daily basis. This is the only toy that is being misused in this way and after more injuries, you decide that you should remove the toy from the classroom until the children are able to use it responsibly.

You are immediately inundated with calls from parents challenging this decision. They insist that their children are able to use the toy properly, and should not be punished due to the actions of others. You explain that you are trying to ensure the safety of all the children in the classroom, and are open to suggestions on how best to achieve this goal. After some back and forth, three solutions appear as the most popular:

1) Remove the toy entirely as the potential for harm is too great.
2) Allow all the children the opportunity to have their own toy which causes harm if used incorrectly, with the understanding that if they use it to harm another, they may be harmed in return.
3) Identify which children seem to be unable to use the toy safely and either keep them away from the toy altogether, or allow them to use the toy only under supervision.

None of these options are problem free. The first calls for a complete prohibition of the toy until it can be used properly by all the children. The second calls for an increase in access and availability to the toy, under the assumption that by making the children aware of the possibility of retributive harm, we will eliminate the threat. The third calls for increased vetting of the children who will be allowed the use the toy which will take up more of your time and resources and will likely be a lengthy process. There may be other, better options that have yet to be made clear, but for now this is what you are faced with. In our scenario we are fortunate since the one thing all concerned agree with is that the present situation is problematic and a solution needs to be discovered.

I will now leave the toys and tots to their teacher and reveal what you likely expected all along, that our thought experiment is related to an issue that is likely to cause an emotional reaction that may stand in the way of a rational, reasoned response, that of gun control. Though we may feel emotionally vested when discussing gun control, we likely have no such interest in a group of imaginary children and their problematic toy. This is the benefit of a thought experiment. It removes our personal involvement in a specific topic and allows us to view it more objectively. Of course dangerous toys and parents may be easier to deal with than legislative changes, if I done my job, we should all at least agree that the conversation is long overdue.

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