What 11-year-olds think
When I ask my 12-year-old Grade 7 daughter what she talked to her friends at school about today (because to children that age, talking is playing) she just says, “Stuff.” I swear I can’t get anything more detailed out of her than that. It was that way, too, last year when she was in Grade 6, and it is the same with my own 10/11-year-old students this year. I find it odd because I remember perfectly the things that I talked about the most with my friends when I was that age. Oh, sure, we boys talked and talked about many things - marbles and ice hockey, Bobby Orr, Phil and Tony Esposito, Evil Keneivel, cartoons, that tall girl in the class we all hated - Julie Dockerty - homework, and the cool 3–speed bicycles with the monkey bars and banana seats we all wanted. But I especially remember my long conversations with my best friend, Kevin Leppman. When we were in Grade 6 our usual daily conversations at school focused on the existence of God, the theory of human evolution, the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe, plate tectonics, and the moral and philosophical implications of the existence of Time. Pretty big stuff for a couple of 11-year-old boys, but I promise that’s what we talked about.
My old elementary school had a large vacant lot adjacent to it. It was nicknamed “the snake pit” first, because it was crawling with garter snakes and second, because the ground there was lower than the level of the school playground - meaning that we had to walk downward into it, like into a pit. So it was a big overgrown pit full of snakes - good for boys. Many of the boys liked to walk in there during recess and catch snakes. Of course, I went along with them and made a show of trying to catch snakes, but I never did because I hated it. But playing along at it was part of the boy culture of the school. Girls never, ever went in there. Not even near it.
Of course the Snake Pit was out-of-bounds. Teachers on playground duty were especially taxed trying to keep an eye on the Snake Pit to stop boys from going in there and to haul trespassers out. It was out of bounds first because it was private property and second, because it was so overgrown that once in there trespassers were completely out of sight of the patrolling teachers. Anything dangerous or disastrous would have been invisible. (The school is still there today, and the lot is still empty. But it is no longer overgrown. Perhaps nothing is being built there because it is part of the flood plain of a nearby river - reason enough not to put a school there as well, but.)
When I was in the Sixth and final grade of that school the principal, Mr. Shaw, was especially strict and firm about students keeping out of the Snake Pit, and most, but not all the boys yielded to the threat of school administration anger over violation of the prohibition. But not my friend Kevin and me. Each recess we slowly walked around the playground and when we came to the Pass - a gap in the bushes and a path worn by previous excursions by hundreds of adventurous boys - we quickly ducked in to continue our discussions while going on a kind of nature walk, or elementary school safari. We weren’t fools. We did nothing dangerous and took no risks. We were mature and responsible as far as it’s possible for 11-year-olds to be. We figured we were doing no harm and so did not take the prohibition to heart. And we were never caught, so there.
Later I discovered that our sojourns were not as secret as we thought. As it turns out, we were observed. In a conversation with a teacher we liked, Mr. O’Connor mentioned in an offhand way about the two of us entering the pit. For a moment Kevin and I stood shocked in our shoes, afraid of a scolding. But he didn’t reprimand us or order us to stop. We thought he treated the situation very maturely and were impressed by his reserve.