MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
Lessons from China
There were countless memorable moments throughout the spring break trip to China, where 14 Middle and Upper School Mandarin students traveled with three other adults and me.1 Many of these moments were what you’d expect, given China is a country with a staggeringly rich and ancient history. Hiking a section of the Great Wall; getting lost in the vast Forbidden City; looking up close at the 2,200 year old Terracotta Warriors, an expansive army of clay discovered in the 1970s by a farmer who sits nearby, signing commemorative coffee table books.
Of course there were other memorable moments created by eight days of close proximity and common adventure:
- Watching students care for each other when a tummy issue hit a few of their friends;
- Hunting for memorable signage (the illustration of the little boy not making it through airport security with firecrackers was a favorite); and
- The time Max was the lucky one to have his name drawn from a hat and he ate the convenience store chicken foot.
But perhaps the most useful experience these students, who ranged in age from 12 to 17, learned was on oft overlooked but incredibly crucial skill: the art of negotiation.
Now before you have images of Henry Kissinger or John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif in your head, realize that all the negotiation students practiced in China was around the cost of trinkets. We discovered that in China almost every transaction we encountered was like buying a new car. There was the sticker price, and there was the actual price, with a series of stops along the way. In some cases students were surprised to see friends negotiating better prices moments after they had paid more for the same souvenir. A soccer jersey suddenly cost half when a student had the fortitude to walk away. Two pairs of strap on heel skates, originally offered for 120 RMB eventually were snagged for one-third the price. Despite some early missteps by students and adults alike, once students got the hang of the game, the negotiation provided as much or more fun than the item itself.
Too often we as adults take a hard line when it comes to negotiating with children. “Do what I say because I’m the grown up and I said so” is a fairly easy position to take when you are the adult who holds all of the cards. And in many cases this makes sense (I know I’d lose my mind if bedtime was up for negotiation every night). But why not allow kids room to negotiate some matters, like how much free time they can earn for doing chores or work? If we don’t provide opportunities for practicing this important life skill, when will our children learn? Most likely the learning will happen at a high stakes moment like negotiating their first salary. Learning negotiation skills is especially crucial for our girls and young women who, as we know, on average still earn significantly less than their male counterparts doing the same work. So next time your child asks for a little more screen time, before you take a hard line or immediately crumble, ask what’s in it for you. The subsequent negotiation might be the most important, and fun, thing they learned all day. And if you ever go to China, never, ever pay full price.
For further reading about negotiating with your children, check out these links:
Psychology Today: Can Children Learn to Negotiate?
Harvard Law School: Negotiating with Your Children
1. Unlimited thanks go to Mandarin teachers Fanfei Kong and Jun Chen for the many hours of planning that went into the trip and their skill at showing off their home country; parent JP Onffroy who brought his warm nature, humor, and creative camera skills halfway around the globe with us; and Assistant Head of School Gary Mathieu who helped orchestrate the whole adventure for us.
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