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Teaching for Social Justice

This is an excerpt from Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills 4th Edition With HKPropel Access by Stephen A. Mitchell,Judith L. Oslin & Linda L. Griffin.

Left unaided in group decision-making processes, students fall back on informal or culturally determined systems of interaction, ranging from the much-loved football huddle to a reliance on acknowledged leaders. These systems are products of cultural, generational, and gender norms. Although there is much to celebrate in all social institutions (church, family, state, school), the active and engaged citizen must always examine them for bias. The challenge for the teacher is to find ways to limit privilege while helping students find positive ways to be rewarded for their efforts.

Very often, we learn about what we believe when we confront real-life situations. In inventing games, these situations arise frequently and naturally as students encounter moments of aporia (rupture or stuckness). When we are faced with situations that challenge what we know, we struggle to make new sense of the universe and push beyond our current moral constructs. Varela (1999), who called this new, more conscious, sense of what is right ethical know-how, believes that it evolves over time through small decisions and actions, rather than being handed down as a set of a priori principles. As students invent and negotiate to create their games, they develop their capacity for personal and social responsibility, free inquiry, decision making, social justice, cooperation, and competition.

Key Concept: Aporia

Key Concept:  Situated Ethics

Skills for Democracy in Action

Just as in the Teaching Games for Understanding model, ethical understanding, tactics, skills, and effective game play develop through well-designed, gamelike activities and structured group processes.

Students take responsibility by doing the following:

  • Taking on roles such as recorder, equipment manager, and coach
  • Paying attention to social relations
  • Helping to resolve conflict

They learn good judgment by doing the following:

  • Realizing that sometimes they must put the good of the group before their personal benefit
  • Contributing ideas and actions for the greater good of the group

They become models and teachers for others by doing the following:

  • Making mistakes and acknowledging them so that their realizations become part of the group’s learning
  • Modeling behaviors such as listening, respecting, understanding, and forgiving
  • Demonstrating integrity
  • Developing, discussing, and refining values
  • Bringing practical experience, skills, and training to game play
  • Bringing special talents and passing on newly developed skills
  • Mentoring and accepting mentorship
  • Making thanks and appreciation part of the experience of healthy competition

They learn that conflict can provide opportunities for learning by doing the following:

  • Learning to trust each other and the group process
  • Addressing conflict honestly, respectfully, and directly
  • Resolving difficulties and moving on

Skills for Group Process

As they work together to invent their games, students also construct group structures that represent and serve the needs of all members. The teacher’s role includes drawing attention to successes and challenges and supporting students as they develop fair and effective ways of working, such as the following:

  • Agreed-upon structures and processes for making decisions
  • Clear and transparent agreements about how people gain decision-making power
  • Clear ways for people to take on tasks and responsibilities
  • Clear agreements about the scope of each member’s authority
  • Clear structures of accountability:
    • Who do people report to?
    • How, when, and in what form is an accounting given?
  • A group culture of appreciation and thanks to those who make contributions and take on tasks
  • A culture of tending to and mutually caring for those holding responsibility
  • A fair and transparent system of rewards
  • Training and mentoring to help people take on new responsibilities

The teacher must also be vigilant in rewarding and encouraging the development of skills and strategies that support the process of the group, including the following:

  • Doing what they say they’ll do quickly and effectively
  • Asking for help and guidance when needed
  • Passing on tasks they cannot do
  • Making sure others complete tasks
  • Handling crises calmly when they arise
  • Planning, strategizing, and looking ahead

Pedagogical Steps in the Inventing Games Process

There are often clear signals that the game has stopped being fair or that learners are stuck: the game falters, voices are raised, or someone has walked off with the ball. Rather than seeing these moments of aporia as an educational failure, teachers who are focused on emergent learning see them as opportunities for learning.

Teaching democracy in action makes many more demands on the teacher than running drills, refereeing dodgeball, or coaching. However, teachers can take certain steps when a group encounters a moment of aporia or difficulty, such as sixth-grade girls confronting the boys in their group who grab all the offensive positions and relegate the girls to defense, contrary to agreed-upon processes. Following is an outline of the steps a teacher might take in this situation:

  1. Assess the emotional state of the group. Are members able to debrief and negotiate in their heightened state? Might a cooling-off period be necessary?
  2. Ask pertinent questions. Following are some examples:
    • How were the decisions made about who played?
    • Who took the most power in making these decisions?
    • Who benefited? Who did not?
    • What other ways of determining players’ positions might be considered?
    • Why is it important to include everyone in decision making and take some time to hear all views? What other situations mirror this one?
  3. Define the moment of breakdown in communication. In this instance, it might be when the boys imposed a ruling that did not involve the girls in a fair process or when the group decided that offense was more desirable than defense.
  4. Remind students of the democratic principles. Identify the democratic principle that was violated and remind the students that they had agreed to adhere to that principle. Why was it set aside? In this instance, the group had settled on a democratic decision-making process. The reasons the boys ignored it are complex; they reflect the socialization and enculturation of both boys and girls.
  5. Improve the process. Identify a democratic attribute or value that might make the inventing games process work more smoothly. In this instance, possible responses are respect, empowerment, and fairness. Democracy does not work when power inequities exist among voters.
  6. Consider how the situation might be resolved. Possible solutions are reestablishing and reinforcing the negotiated group decision-making process and applying it to decisions about player roles.
  7. Prevent a recurrence. Consider policies or practices that might help prevent this situation from recurring. How might the group become of aware of players’ grievances, and how might they be addressed?
  8. Write it down. Have students write about the experience to clarify what they learned and, in particular, to identify the principles, concepts, and structures they encountered. In this way, students can develop their own schemas of ethical situations and principles of democracy in action to guide their thinking and reactions. Individual writing can help less vocal students identify their thoughts and feelings, which may help them be more articulate and confident in future discussions.
  9. Resolve to learn. Hopefully, the teacher will resolve to better educate the class about offensive and defensive roles. This is a good opportunity to discuss mutually supportive teamwork.

Figure 9.1 Components of ethical situations.
Figure 9.1 Components of ethical situations.