10 In the Classroom

Cathryn van Kessel

Once you are aware of and its accompanying defensive compensatory actions, you then are faced with what you can do in your classroom.

Understanding Why Humans Group Themselves Together in the First Place

  • Check out this teacher-tested Sticker Activity!

Exercise: Sticker Activity

Materials: stickers of different colours and shapes/sizes (I use stars of a variety of colours in two different sizes). Ideally, you want (at least close to) the same colours if there are different sizes.

Inform the students that the class is going to do an activity where a sticker is placed on their forehead.  Allow students to abstain from participating, but inform them that they cannot influence what the others are doing.

Have the students close their eyes. Place a sticker on their forehead. For a class of 20, try to have at least 2 or 3 people with the exact same sticker, and at least 4 people with the same colour of sticker.

Once all the stickers have been placed. Tell the students to open their eyes, but to remain silent.  Without using their voices (or looking in a mirror to see their own sticker), have the students place themselves in groups (they can use gestures, though).

Likely, the students will organize themselves by those with the exact same sticker (but however they organize themselves is fine).

Tell the students to “try again”, organizing themselves in a different way. Again, note what organization they choose, and tell them to try again. Repeat as often as you like.

Different organizations include: same colour/shape/size, same colour (but different shape/size), same shape/size (but different colour), everyone together as one, everyone on their own, etc. etc.

Students will get frustrated, perhaps even shoving students out of ‘their’ group in order to get the ‘right’ answer. This is obviously an entryway to an interesting discussion on a variety of points.

Eventually, stop the activity and debrief the students:

  • How did you feel when you knew what group you you part of?
  • Did you feel lost when you didn’t know where you belonged?
  • To what extent did you rely on other people to tell you where you belong?

According to Becker and TMT, our self-esteem relies on being a meaningful, contributing member to the group that shares our worldview. By living up to the cultural values held by this group, we earn a sense of self-esteem. When we belong, our anxieties about our own finite life are reduced.

Prevention of Harmful Defensive Actions

  • teach your students about and
  • set up a classroom that attends to “emotional correctness” (see Sally Kohn’s TED talk on emotional correctness)
  • talk through defensive reactions and strategies to prevent them from harming others

Teaching Students about the Process of Working Through their Defenses

  • The Oatmeal does a step-by-step guide (in comic form!) to dealing with information that has an emotional impact (“the backfire effect”). It’s in a U.S. context, but should be relatable in other places, like Canada.

Diffuse Potential Worldview Threats with Humour

Sigmund Freud (1905) argued that humour is a defence mechanism: “(Humour) scorns to withdraw the ideational content bearing the distressing affect from conscious attention as repression does, and thus surmounts the automatism of defence” (p. 169). Neil Elgee (2003) has written on humour as a defence against death, allowing us to release tension (humour can deny our existential situation and ostracize others, so we’ll focus on helpful uses of humour here).

One method is to use flipped narratives (e.g., South Park’s take on the Washington Redskins). The absurdity of the flipped narrative allows us to release tension while still discussing the potentially worldview-threatening information.

References

Elgee, N.J. (2003). Laughing at Death. The Psychoanalytic Review, 90, 1-23 doi:10.1521/prev.90.4.475.23917. Retrieved from http://ernestbecker.org/new/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LAD2010.pdf
Freud, S., & Strachey, J. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York: Norton.

(Created by C. van Kessel, 2018-2019)

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The Grim Educator by Cathryn van Kessel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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