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.