As children our parents enroll us in sporting teams or dance classes to teach us how to play. The structured play of group activity allows children to learn how to work together, communication skills, and simply allowing a place to make friends. Play allows for a safe experience of failure and learning. Satire is simply grown up play. It is a structure removed from the toil of everyday life that has fun in a social way. It asks readers to play with new ideas and question the way in which life is already lived.
Sports allow for an outlet for failure. There is always a new skill to be perfected and executed. A person can only get better at sports, but never perfect it. With the open ended goal of perfection being unobtainable is a safe outlet to learn. If there is no willingness to learn all abilities are stunted. It is similar to O’Reilly’s goals for the classroom, she wants to bring play back into it, “If we ourselves are not changing I suspect we are not permitting ourselves to be put at risk by our students, or by Borges, Kozinski, and Conrad.” (O’ Reilly 108-109). School is a place where failing is unacceptable and perfection is the goal.
When a system is set up where the learner is taught that there is one answer and by receiving 100% all answers are correct leaves no room for creativity. Obviously there are some cases in which a single answer is all that is allowed, for example 2+2=4, but there are millions of ways to get water in a bucket. There is no way to grade problem solving and by telling a child they are wrong simply because it is not in the curriculum is not conducive to learning, “My point is simply that young people learn by being insulted, bullied, and turned into objects to insult, bully, and turn other into objects, and that these actions contain the seeds of war.” (O’Reilly 110).
I went to a boarding school that required sports. I had never played water polo but decided since I was a swimmer I should try another water sport. I fell in love immediately. Being on the team allowed me to make quick friends at a new school and allowed me to have a stress relieving activity from school work. Then as I got better and older my coach decided I needed to be pushed more. I am not an aggressive person and I see sports as more of an outlet than a need to conquer the other team. Apparently that is wrong. I began dreading going to practice because the coach would yell at me and tell me I wasn’t trying hard enough or playing well enough.
I was at the point of throwing in my one piece and calling it all a loss, but then I decided to get even. I would purposely not pay attention in practice and encourage my friends to do the same. It was anarchy in the pool and the team was split in two; those who were there to win, and those who were there for fun. By my senior year I realized it wasn’t worth it. By allowing my coach to bully me I became just like him, using aggressive behavior to obtain my goal. I decided to simply play the game I love. My team went on to be first seed at championships, though we did not win, the team went on the next year to win it all. I feel as being part of a team allowed me to grow and play a real life scenario in an environment where failure is deemed allowable rather than having the same altercation with a teacher who could fail me for not doing the work.
Satire is simply grown up play. For the lessons that can’t be learned in sport play, but an intellectual play. It allows for a misreading of life and an exaggeration of something that may not be true to play out in the imagination. “The satirist has always poked as much, sometimes more, fun at himself as he has at others. Seeing the dangers of taking themselves too seriously, contemporary writers often turn to satire as a way of setting their own vision in perspective.” (Deer 713). Satire allows for goofing off and allows it to play out. By the end of a satire, like the end of my high school career some lesson should be learned. It allows a questioning of the self and an experimentation of social norms without the pressure of losing a job or a sermon.
Vonnegut allows for people to explore what it is to be human. He has aliens, men, and men who have been to war. Which of these are the most real is what the reader is trying to explore. Without going to war the reader explores its affects and results, “In many subtle ways literature conveys values because- or to the extent that- it allows students to re-imagine and thus to live and experience the images of the text.” ( O’ Reilly 107). In a safe environment war and its results can be reflected upon and be taught to a mass amount of people without having to send them all into war.
Vonnegut also teaches a lesson about striving to be the best at war, who really wins? The convenient mass destruction of fellow man should be spoken about more rather than taught as being a victory in classes. The men who killed the most in the most efficient ways are the victories and we study and glorify them in class. Humans must be taught that being the best at killing is good, “We went over to the side of the machines we become gun-men. We were no longer creatures of nature, of a maternal eco-system. Earlier wars have been fought within nature, by natural beings; later wars will be fought by robots.” (O’ Reilly 107). Vonnegut is breaking down the entire structure of what is valued in civilized culture and it should be taught in the institutions that uphold that structure. This is a very fragile line that can be traversed through play. Satire allows a levity that can puncture through both sides.
Not only does satire protect student from mental scarring but it can also bring to note social scars that were made that may have not been noticed before. For example in Huck Finn our entire class was deeply affected by the use of the n-word, “The meaning of a word, as the structuralists tell us, is not intrinsic to it but comes only from its differences from other words, its relationships to them. Because meaning is derived in that way, playing with words becomes the way to discover meanings, as well as the way to express the absence of intrinsic meaning.” (O’ Reilly 714). The use of one word excessively allowed the discussion of the word and what it represents in a socially acceptable way. Failing to understand it’s use or defending the use of it at the time was done in a comfortable way to bring up social prejudice that cannot be spoken about on a regular plane ride home.
Play allows humans to learn tough lessons or question the lessons were were taught. It is a place where failure is ok and there is no risk of being wrong to utter destruction. It is a place of imagination and creativity. It is how to solve problems other people don't even notice. It is a stress free environment that can give us the most needful and serious solutions for what it is to be human.