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Wrestling Miss Jane Elliott - Struggling to Place Experientials.pdf

Wrestling Miss Jane Elliott - Struggling to Place Experientials.pdf

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1 Wrestling Ms. Jane Elliott Struggling to Place Experientials in Social Studies Curriculum “It was the black dot exercise...I can’t forget it. I think about what I did, what we all did. I think about it everyday… it, it haunts me.” This was Jacquie, a student who had just graduated from law school and was on her way to a state government internship. Hoping that she “might be of some use”, she bypassed more lucrative offerings. I’d taken the opportunity to ask her what questions, units, or activities, stayed with her and made the difference. The “Black Dot Exercise” she referred to is an experiential created to check students’ ability to make moral choices under pressure. The experiential was inspired by Ms. Jane Elliott’s “blue eyed, brown eyed” experiment documented in the film The Eye of the Storm . Elliott forces students into a series of complex situations and a powerful learning experience results. Though inspired by her actions, her warning has always stayed with me. In both the film and interviews since she warns that real damage can come from engaging in this pedagogy. What Is An Experiential Exactly? When it comes to teaching, language and word choice are important. Like all professions, in teaching there is jargon. Generally speaking, there’s no universal agreement on most terms, while there are generalities, there are always gray areas. There are three terms that the field seems to argue about repeatedly, simulation, role play, and experiential. To those (like me) attracted to semantic debates, it’s an easy argument to have, just walk into a room full of social studies teachers and ask them to define them. There always seems to be conflation in our definitions where each loses its distinctiveness and becomes largely the same. I argue that they’re actually fairly distinct pedagogical terms. Simulation is the recreation of something, generally a process, such as a simulation of how a bill becomes law making in Congress. Students write a bill, send it to committee, negotiate, etc. In a role play, students take on the perspective and philosophical bent of a group or a character and make arguments from their point of view. Students role play the Continental Congress taking on the roles of characters who were there such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, etc. An experiential, by contrast, is a content delivery system that is teacher directed, often having an emotional impact on students. Although students are “experiencing” an event, students are either gaining content knowledge or it is being reinforced. They are not without controversy and with reason. The entire list of possible negatives is vast and there is not space here speak about all of them. The usual critiques are that they are historically reductive, reinforce and expand negative power dynamics, can leave students with misunderstandings about race, gender, and class and often leave students with misunderstandings about historical content. Professor Samuel Totten
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