Inclusive Pedagogy: Calvinball or Understanding?

Have you ever had a teacher that you felt like they were making the rules up as they go? It’s impossible to figure what to say or what they expect from you. It’s like a game of Calvinball. It’s academic Calvinball.

Now, Calvinball is a fictional game created by Calvin and Hobbes. It’s has elements from different sports and games, but the game is never played the same way and the rules are made up as the game is played. It’s basically the opposite of organized sports. There’s no structure and sometimes, I think classes, well, they are a game of Calvinball.

Students have learned how to navigate academic Calvinball. We manage and get through the course. Yet, those classes are never the place for inclusive discussion, even if they are discussion classes. They aren’t environments that produce discussions about complex issues. This week’s reading, Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens’s “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,” got me thinking about creating structure and openness.

Creating an environment that produces intelligent discussion is a challenge. I’m not sure I agree entirely with the reading, but I do agree with the notation that we have to frame the ground rules for discussions in the classroom. It’s how we present the rules to the safe/brave spaces that can dictate the conversation or control the class. If teachers go too far in setting up the ground rules, then the students may not want to go into the more difficult conversation or they may not feel welcome to speak. Yet, if teachers don’t set any ground rules, then it’s a game of Calvinball.

It’s a balancing act that as a teacher you won’t know if you get it right until weeks into the course. Naturally, it may be too late to make the classroom inclusive. That’s the major issue with inclusion: once you introduce exclusion into the classroom, you may never have inclusion again. I think this is why the framing of the ground rules becomes the paramount approach to creating an inclusive environment.

I don’t think it matters if you call the classroom “safe” or “brave” zone. It comes back to how you as the educator sets the tone of the classroom, but you also need to understand what you can handle as an educator. Having an inclusive classroom doesn’t mean that you need to solve all the world’s problems, but you do need to have openness with order. Inclusive environments require understanding.

4 thoughts on “Inclusive Pedagogy: Calvinball or Understanding?

  1. You make an interesting point here regarding how we might not get things right until weeks into the course. No matter how much experience we have as teachers (and I have very little – just over a year now), each classroom is made up of different, unique students, the sum of which is a group that is probably much different than the one we taught last semester or the semester before that. While we can learn from our past encounters and refine ground rules for the classroom and discussion, these will all be subject to change until – and probably even still after – we get to know the people in our audience. We may have the best intentions, but some guidelines will simply work better for certain groups and not be as effective with others.

    Setting the tone in the classroom is an extremely important task that from the very first point of contact you have with your students. It’s important to reflect back on classrooms we’ve all felt most comfortable in and think about how we can create that as we take the place of the teacher in the room.

  2. I agree that I don’t feel the need to call these “safe” or “brave” spaces for them to generate an environment where people feel that can openly voice their opinions. As educators, this should not be a separate component of our classrooms, but a concept that we are actively striving to create on a daily bases. I also agree that educators do need to get a sense of the students in the class to help figure out what is the best way to get the conversation going. It definitely takes some time to get students to warm up to the instructor, as well as their classmates, and make them feel encouraged to share. With the current trends in higher education (e.g. large, lecture-based courses), I struggle to figure out how one could even create this inclusive environment.

  3. You just gave me the perfect start for something I was thinking about for a while. A CalvinBall Grading system…. So I have been wondering how to make a grading system that changes the rules all the time. In a way it is hack-safe or atleast difficult to rig unlike the current one. Whats a potential solution. CALVINBALL!! Good post

    • Sarang,
      The whole point of calvinball is to create new rules that allows oneself to win no matter the circumstances. What type of grading system are you talking about?

      I agree that the specific naming of the classroom doesn’t necessarily matter, but rather how we as educators bring discussion and introduce topics that is important. Great point.

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