Mapping Our School
Photocopy or create a large map of the school, including the school grounds and the cafeteria. Then have students identify places that cliques or self-segregating groups gather. Draw lines between these areas, marking the invisible walls. Identify as many such places as possible (examples: Athletes gather at "the wall" before school. Goth students share this table at lunch. Band members gather on the back steps after school).
Then pose these questions for discussion:
- How does a new student learn about these boundaries and invisible walls?
- What happens when someone tries to cross one of the invisible walls? Can some students cross the walls more easily than others? Why or why not?
- What forces keep the walls in place? What forces, if any, are trying to bring down the walls?
- Name all the factors that people use to separate themselves into these groups. Then name as many similarities between the groups as you can. Do people pay more attention to the differences than to the similarities? Why or why not?
Us vs. Them: Oppositional Thinking
As you begin class, write your school's name and mascot on the board. Then write the name and mascot of your school's greatest rival. This strategy works very well in schools with major sports rivalries, but consider bringing academic or artistic competition into the discussion as well.
Draw a line down the middle, and ask students to supply adjectives for each school. In all likelihood, students will use "in-group" language to describe their own school or team and "outsider" language to characterize the "rival."
Then, erase the two school names and substitute “border” terms from current events, such as Republican/Democrat or Christian/Muslim. Or use other terms describing other “borders”—boy/girl or rich/poor, for example. Ask the students whether the adjectives still apply. Make the point that people easily gravitate to an us-versus-them dichotomy.
To model how to step away from oppositional thinking, recreate some of the pairings using a Venn Diagram and begin with similarities, rather than differences.