Continuing with our second cornerstone theme, Building Community, as we deepen the work we are doing in classrooms and schools during October, National Bullying Prevention Month, we focus on the “The Ridicule Free Zone,” which precedes the Constitution of Caring.
You know how when you Google something, “key words” lead you to a list of websites? Well, when you Google, “Ridicule Free Zone” guess what? At the top of the list is the third lesson in our building community theme. Now imagine your classroom, your school, your community at the top of that list!
It would be so nice if Ridicule Free Zones spread from classrooms to schools, to small towns to, as one child put it, a ridicule free world. We think that the original writers of our curriculum were on to something when they coined the term. Think of a “smoke free zone” or a “pedestrian safe zone”, or a “quiet car” on a long distance train ride. Each of these is an escape from something dangerous or uncomfortable, a safe space protected from something we want to avoid.
Imagine that your classroom is one where each student feels safe and cared for and where we – adults and children – all make that happen. It’s such a powerful aspirational goal. Maybe we can’t be perfect at it, but the more we get close to it, the better we will all feel and the stronger our community will be.
What is ridicule? The dictionary says it is the subjection of someone or something to contemptuous and dismissive language or behavior. Strong stuff. Here are some synonyms of ridicule: mockery, laughter, scorn, scoffing, contempt, jeering, sneering teasing, taunts, sarcasm. More strong stuff.
Some educators don’t believe we should focus on negative behavior and our lesson leans toward the positive by asking how we act in order to create a ridicule free zone, so that’s a good place to start. We have also seen success through conversations with students talking about the words that describe ridicule and how it feels. In fact, we made a video specifically of children talking about what it feels like to be bullied. As we’ve said, for some, this can lead to a productive conversation. Others may be uncomfortable with the potential negativity.
If you do decide to define terms and discuss what ridicule is, colleagues remind us that it should not be in the spirit of blame: not “gotcha, that’s ridicule.” But in the spirit of “do you think that’s it? Oh, that’s it. I get it. We can be nicer than that and, finally, we don’t want our classmates to feel that way.” Remember, as this lesson evolves, it leads to a classroom Constitution of Caring, so our emphasis is always on those actions which build community, rather than harm it.
This lesson also provides an opportunity for students to make signs about their Ridicule Free Zone. We provide some examples in the lesson, but, we recommend that they be hand-made by your students. They then become a great visual tool to use when someone strays from your classroom agreements and a cue for new students entering your classroom or school for the first time.
Of course, this lesson could not be more timely as we continue to see ridicule throughout this election season in the United States. Check out the resources from our friends at Teaching Tolerance about the election and, particularly, the Civility Contract as a great companion to this lesson.
We’d love to see your pictures and videos of your Ridicule Free Zones and stories about how you got there! Post them to our Facebook page or send them (assuming you have parental permission!) to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.