Photograph by Brian Bailey. Click for source.

I could have called this post ‘failed dialogue’ but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

One of the courses I teach is called ERC, Ethics and Religious Culture. The course has 3 competencies – reflects on ethical issues, demonstrates an understanding of the phenomenon of religion, and engages in dialogue.

So yesterday we did a little work on the 1st and third competencies with an adaptation of lesson 2 in the teaching kit on tolerance called The Power of Words from Tolerance.org.

The activity starts with individual work. I handed out a piece of paper with a list of names on one side, a list of occupations on the other. I modified the list from the teaching kit to make it more specific for our area of the world. I inserted Mohawk and French Canadian names as well as some occupations from around here. I asked my students to draw lines between the names and occupations.

Once they had made their decisions – and it was very difficult for them to remain quiet throughout the process, the activity was unsettling for them – I asked them to place their chairs in a circle and we were going to talk. The first thing I asked about had to do with some things I heard during the activity:
“I feel uncomfortable doing this”
“I feel like I am racial profiling”
Saying of names (Eli Goldstein, Latisha Smith, George Two Axe…) and then snickering or laughing out loud

Then I asked people to talk.

(this is where we get to the failed dialogue part)

It quickly became evident that 2 boys were getting into an argument about the activity, which is not necessarily a bad thing but isn’t optimal when we are sitting in a circle for the purpose of open dialogue. One boy said it was a set up, that I put ethnic names and specific jobs to make them be racist/sexist/prejudiced, and the other said that it was just a list of names and jobs and it was their minds that was doing the rest.

They wouldn’t let anyone speak. For real. Each time someone else tried to talk they continued their argument. I reminded the group of our norm, seek to understand before being understood. I asked the group to go around the circle and take turns to say their piece. I introduced a talking stick (actually a talking pine cone). One of the boys tried to sabotage the process by telling the other students to keep passing the cone around so it would get back to him. Luckily the majority of my students stood their ground and spoke their piece when they had the pine cone. It wasn’t easy though, 2 or 3 boys were fidgeting (ok, jumping up and down in their seats) and saying pass the cone, pass the cone. I had to keep interfering so the dialogue was quite stilted to say the least. Some of the other students were getting frustrated with the boys, telling them to shut up, to stop.

The pine cone finally made full circle and the first of the 2 boys had it again. The funny thing is, they couldn’t speak. They started to argue about the pine cone, about whose turn it was, about anything but the task.

At the beginning of the class I reminded my students that each time we have dialogue I will be evaluating their participation and competency development. So at this point the two boys who had so much to say asked what mark they would receive for today’s dialogue. I told them a 1 to 2 (we mark on a range from 1-5, 1 being doesn’t meet the requirements, 5 being exceeds the requirements). They couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t fair. After all, they were the only ones who had anything good to say. It was lunch time, so I asked the rest of the class to leave except for the one prime arguer and the one prime jumper up and downer ‘pass the cone, pass the cone’.

We talked.
(this is the part where the dialogue becomes unfailed)
Oh geez. It’s 6am. I need to run. I will update this from school. But I think I’ll post the first part anyways, keep you on your toes ;)

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