How do we help children and young people to be active participants in a diverse democracy?
What we can do is build inclusive school communities, emphasise social justice and anti-bias and teach children tolerance and how to be agents of change. It is helping them to appreciate and respect difference and expand their perspectives.
That sounds ambitious and deliberately so.
One of the hardest challenges students face is standing up for what they believe and being assertive in the face of what they don’t.
Ross (2019) draws our attention to a technique called ‘calling in’ created by human-rights practitioners to challenge the toxicity of call-out culture (especially potent in the clicktivist social media world). She says that:
Calling in is speaking up without tearing down.
Ross, a feminist human rights educator and visiting college professor, says that classrooms are the perfect context for calling in and they are because this is a controlled environment and we can teach students ways to avoid escalating conflicts and relate to each other in positive ways.
Classrooms have to be brave spaces because this is where we experiment, take risks and encourage mistake making. This is the arena where difference is guaranteed and that students from different backgrounds may use words differently.
In a brave classroom, students are taught to challenge each other respectfully. Ross gives us a few starting points for how to model and start a call-in conversation when we hear something we don’t agree with:
“I need to stop you there because something you just said is not accurate.”
“I’m having a reaction to that comment. Let’s go back for a minute.”
“Do you think you would say that if someone from that group was with us in the room?”
“There’s some history behind that expression you just used that you might not know about.”
“In this class, we hold each other accountable. So we need to talk about why that joke isn’t funny.”
Ross notes that call ins “is simply the extension of grace, the opportunity to grow and to share learning and responsibility for each other.”
Ngoc Loan Tran (2013) defines call ins as reaching out privately to someone engaging in oppressive behaviour and explaining why it’s harmful and should stop.
A classroom is a place to try different ways of speaking to build trust and understanding and where students can ‘DM’ in a safe and secure environment.
Call ins are the way forward but that doesn’t mean we should never call out. Sometimes we have to be braver.