Connecting and Reconnecting, II

A few years ago I happened to be talking about conferences with someone who has to attend them pretty regularly and hates them.  “What’s the point of spending all that time and money,” she asked me, “when you can get the same information online?”  I couldn’t formulate a clear answer at the time, though I had a half-formed thought that maybe, just maybe, the purpose of attending a conference in this age of hyper-abundant information is something other than information-gathering.

I spent a lot of time last weekend with Emily and Gerol, the other members of my American Classical League Institute panel.  For both of them, it was their first ACL Institute, and both had an interesting response: “This doesn’t feel like a conference!  It feels like coming home!”  It’s the same response I had at the very first ACL Institute I attended, in Boulder in 1993, and again when I started attending regularly in 2004.  ACL members have come to expect it, and Presidents of the organization usually mention that feeling in a plenary speech or two.  “You’ll be back,” they tell first-time attendees, “because you’re part of the family now.”

On the surface, that might sound silly to my conference-hating friend.  Aren’t all conferences pretty much the same?  There are panels and plenary sessions, coffee breaks and conference rooms, presentations that range from excellent to Not So Great, and the occasional networking opportunity.  And of course, if you wanted to, you could get all the information much more cheaply, much more easily.  You could probably get almost all of it on the Internet for free, with a more comfortable seat (in your own living room) and better coffee (brewed the way you like it) for good measure.

So in this time of budgetary crises and economic woes, why do Latin teachers keep gathering each June?  Why did I drive all that way, spend all that time, and even recruit others to come along?  There’s something powerful about the community that forms at ACL, something much more important than those conference sessions or coffee breaks.  A group of interesting people, sharing common interests and passions, come together with a common purpose, and amazing bonds form.

I hope that’s a good answer for my conference-hating friend … and to be honest, I’ve been to my share of not-so-wonderful conferences and “trainings,” too, so I understand her perspective quite well.  It’s hard to grasp the idea of connecting and reconnecting with a community if you haven’t ever experienced it.

One of the many connections I discovered over the weekend was the importance of guided, embodied role play for all of our projects.  For the Tres Columnae Project, one way to think of the columns is that participants read about, write about, and become the characters, and becoming a character is also at the heart of Operation LAPIS and of Dungeons and Discourse.  And yesterday, through my Twitter stream, I discovered Seekers Unlimited, a small startup that’s developing live-action role plays for all sorts of educational purposes.  They have a Kickstarter that you might want to take a look at if you’re interested in role-plays for learning.

But like my conference-hating friend, Mark was skeptical of the notion:

Not so sure about this. A game, a game described as a classroom-tested educational role-playing game with stated rules that adhere to California Science Scholastic Standards and meet the new Common Core State Standards.Unless I’m missing something this is another attempt to lure students into capturing more head knowledge.

Using the shortest distance between two points is a straight line principle, let a kid play the role they are most qualified to play, themselves. No game required and no outside motivation to drive learning.

You do this by allowing them to figure out who they are and what their passions are. Once this is clear to a person  they can find their own path to items that may have real lifelong value in these government defined standards.

And Mark, to be fair, I understand that skepticism.  If you haven’t experienced a well-run role-play, it’s hard to imagine how it could be anything but that.  But, like community, learning through role play is really powerful … and hard to describe … when you have experienced it.  As Debbie put it,
I agree re: helping students discover and enrich their own path, self, possibilities. I also see role-playing as a great strategy to help achieve this.  I see it as an opportunity to explore a different way of looking at and interacting with the world as well as an opportunity to develop the skill of empathy, putting one’s self in someone else’s shoes for a while.It is building the understanding of the “Fire of Truth”, being able to move from one side of the fire to another in order to see and respect another perspective.

Gathering around the Fire of Truth, and moving from one side to another through the power of imagination.  It’s a powerful thing … and that may be why our ACL session was so well-received.  Part of the power, I think, is that you do form a community, possibly even a joyful one, when you’re working  and creating together.  You connect and reconnect, both to other participants and to the facts and concepts inherent in the structure of the activity.  But, again, that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it … as hard to explain as community itself.  How, specifically, will we encourage and invite the skeptical and fearful, like Ms. X, Mr. Y, and their terrifying-but-terrified Powers That Be, to lay aside their skepticism and join the gathering for a moment?  And if they take that first, fearful step, is the power of community strong enough to do the rest?
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Published in: on July 3, 2013 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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