Welcome to Rolling Earth

This website offers tools for education for democratic self-organization and reflections on their use. I hope it will provide a space for discussion and exploration of the use of "popular education" in movement building -- guided by a commitment to equality and democracy. See the website guidelines for more about the mechanics of the site. - Matt Noyes

Reading the air - 空気を読む

Another game I learned at Kani Club, the improvisation group in Tokyo where I have played many great games and come to appreciate the underlying "Yes, and..." approach. In Japanese, a person who can't understand situations intuitively is said to be unable to "read the air": 空気読めない. In this game, people take turns pantomiming a series of short narratives with the goal of keeping the "reading" intact even as the details of the narrative change.

The flow:

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What is a union?

I came up with this in a Field Study course in which I took at group of students to NYC to study unions and workers centers. The students had no experience of unionism, so we needed to come up with a working definition of "union" so that we had a common basis for discussion. (As opposed to me just explaining what a union is, or given them someone else's definition. - What's wrong with explaining? Read on.) This activity gave us a great starting point for our discussion and it captured something essential about unionism and any social movement: the need to constantly reinvent and reimagine.

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Parallel Universes

The task we set ourselves in an English for Activists class was to analyze an upcoming local election with major implications for parliamentary elections that would follow later in the year. The context was a recent victory by the Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House elections and the continuing decline of the radical left/green parties which most of our participants support.

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I got 198 methods and violence ain't one: three sorts

These are sorting games I made up based on Gene Sharp's list of 198 non-violent methods of struggle. I wanted to introduce the list of methods to people without overwhelming them (198!), and do it in a way that raises the underlying organizing issues they imply. The idea is to sort the methods according to whatever criteria you choose. These games should spread awareness of the variety of non-violent methods people have used in collective action and the issues they raise in a given context/group.

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Learning Interview

I learned this from Emily Schnee and rely on it, especially for academic courses I teach. The form is simple, an interview activity with a report back and a chart to collect the information. But the content is rich: how have we learned well, what does that tell us about how learning is best done, what does that say about teaching and how it is best done? Starting with a skill also helps people recognize themselves as people who have skills and know how to learn, rather than starting where most education starts, with people's ignorance and lack of skill.

The flow:

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What have we been up to?

This is a simple way for a group that is meeting again after not meeting for several weeks or months to catch up on each other's activities. Like the Power Line and the Learning Interview, this activity involves making a simple shared chart that "bubbles up" individual experiences and, at the same time, enables you to see collective patterns of activity.

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Fortunately, Unfortunately

I learned this game from a fellow teacher in the Intensive English Learning Program at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, who played it as a child.

It's a pairs game (or chain game), where each player picks up from the previous player's contribution.

The joker starts the game, usually with the standard opening, "Unfortunately, I fell out of an airplane."
The next player continues the story, but switches the direction, "Fortunately, I had a parachute."
The joker (or a third player, if it is a chain), continues, "Unfortunately, the parachute had a hole in it."

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Simon Proposes

I thought up this idea for a game to introduce OWS-type consensus decision-making signals, to practice their use, and to spark discussion about the basics of consensus and some difficulties in consensus decision-making.

Circle game, whole group.

Joker first reminds people of the game Simon Says, leading a quick refresher round of the game. In this game, though, Simon doesn't get to give commands, s/he can only make proposals.

So, for example, the joker says, "Simon proposes we touch our noses."

Then, all the players "twinkle":
a) up to show their support

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Um, what is that? (aka alien communication)

(I learned this at Kani Club, the great "Yes, and..." improv group in Tokyo.)

This game, done in pairs, challenges the listener and the speaker alike to clarify the meaning of words and phrases used. Like all games it is, as Huizinga says, "pointless but significant." The fun is in the pointless interruption and unnecessary explanation. The significance is in the verification of mutual understanding of even the simplest terms.

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This is not what democracy looks like...

In an English for Activists class on Occupy, Aki Owada had an idea for how to discuss the question: "What is democracy?" Instead of asking people to talk about what democracy is, she asked everyone to give examples of experiences they have had that were not democratic. (This is the same basic idea as the nightmare scenario, using the opposite as an entry way into a discussion.)

Here's what we came up with:

  • Police telling me I can't cross the street at a demonstration. The young activists said, "be patient Grandmother!" But I don't want to be patient!

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