Update from the Classroom: Covenant Usurp Simulation!


Following the Responsive Classroom model, the norms and expectations in our classroom are called our 'covenant'. 

In our classroom, we spend the first month and a half (!) trying to sort out what we value individually and as a class, so that we can create a covenant that feels true to us. We have three dynamic simulations in which students 'experience' Anarchy, Totalitarianism, and Republicanism.  After each class period, we reflect on each government model to decide what we like best about it. We take these positive aspects and try to figure out how we want our classroom to run and which pieces we would like to incorporate into our community. The covenant is a labor of love and becomes all their own. This year, our class created a written covenant, a song (they are an incredibly musical bunch), and a logo which was "reproduced" (AKA copied and laminated) for everyone to put on their lockers, computers, notebooks etc.. 

The idea is that our students sincerely care about their covenant. 

One simulation we do as a part of our Indigenous American/ American Indian/ Native American Studies unit is to have our covenant... usurped! 

How it works: 

This simulation requires 6th graders (older students) to come into the classroom and they tell the 5th graders that their rules are useless, they will not be prepared for 6th grade, and ultimately, they give the 5th grade class new and 'better' rules. We then dramatically take down all aspects of our covenant and the 5th graders become upset and frustrated. We spend the rest of the day/lesson abiding by the new rules put on us by the 6th graders. 

*FYI. Prior to this simulation we have given students plenty of background about European contact, along with discussed methods for oppressing Native people in the US (extermination, assimilation in boarding schools, forced into debt, reservations...). 

The response and reflection: 

This simulation is a visceral experience for students as their rules, community, and classroom culture is taken away from them by a group of people who have no context to who they are or what they have been working on all year. As we debrief this simulation we STRESS repeatedly that we would NEVER want to simulate any actual aspect of disenfranchisement of Indigenous people, and that this experience is a mere sliver of shallow understanding that might create more space for empathy as we continue our unit (and our lives). We come back to this point repeatedly. 

This covenant usurp simulation helped students be more invested in our discussions and learning about  people who have been in the Maryland and Virginia areas for thousands of years. We especially love the passion they bring to their work after this simulation, and their increased determination to comprehend  American history better, from essential points of view, and in more depth.