Another in an on-going series of “Things from 5,000 Year Ago,” the creation of our Class Agreement:
A few years back, while enrolled at a field school in Haida Gwaii, I attended an environmental education/place-based learning conference at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay and had the opportunity of learning from Susan Chung, who, along with its founder, Stanley King, has developed the co-design process (aka The Social Art of Architecture), in which architects, educators, and students work together to visualize, design, and implement the building of school gardens and other multi-use school work spaces.
As someone who lives (and, if I’m not careful, will most likely die) by Oscar Wilde’s adage, “Talent borrows, genius steals,” I have experimented with incorporating their work into the building of class agreements – the basic “rules” which govern a classroom community. (Full disclosure: I’m now even stealing from myself with recycling of texts from old blogs posts… MACC-sters from years past, get over it; you try doing this job)
I didn’t have the wherewithal to take a “before” picture, but the process began with a simple drawing of a bucolic setting on the whiteboard: a river, some grasslands and mountains, and a person in a canoe. As a class, we imagined that we had come across this beautiful place and decided we wanted to stay. Taking suggestions from students as to what we would need in order to live here, I drew additions – a cabin, sources of food and fresh water, a bow and arrow to shoot a poor defenceless bunny… – and then passed the pen off to them, to continue to add whatever they desired.
As you can imagine, this becomes a very loud and chaotic process.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the horror of Division Three Town:
…home to not one, not two, but three Trump Towers and some interesting neighbours, like the death-match arena adjacent to the swimming pool and the aptly named Pollution Factory downwind of the Ice Cream/Poop Store. There also seems to be a lot of money and candy lying around, and needlessly to say, BTS playing on a loop.
Debriefing, everyone was able to comment on the frenetic, distractive, and overwhelming feelings the activity generated.
This led to a discussion about the nature of urban sprawl – what happens when those with money do whatever they like, wherever and whenever they want to do it.
We looked at Division Three Town…
…and discussed what it would be like to live there. What would it sound like? What would it smell like? How would it feel to actually be there?
From here, we spoke about the need to create a class charter and some basic guidelines that would help us create a workspace conducive to learning. Primed by earlier brainstorming done in response to the videos we had explored about the lunch program in a Japanese elementary school; Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant, Prune; and Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability – as well as their own experience with past class agreements – students then worked in small groups to come up with a list of what they considered essential agreements…
…and we worked as a class to combine those ideas into a list of possibilities. Armed with stickers, students each chose what they considered the top three choices…
…which we then tidied up…
…and, hands on hearts, pledged allegiance to.
Some items are already providing to be more challenging than others (ahem *number 10* ahem), but I think you all came up with a list that would do any democratic society proud. Now, almost three months after the fact, where are you at with this agreement? Which parts of the agreement do you naturally inhabit? Which are challenging for you to honor? What small steps can you make to further embrace and embody the contract that you signed? How do we reach a more perfect union?
And finally, five Interconnectivity points for the first person who explains to me the in joke about Eric’s Pencil Factory!