Today we played Monopoly. We played in our Summer Institute…a leadership development program for teachers of writing. And as you might imagine, this play had more than one purpose!
There is something wonderful about giving a group of dedicated educators a Monopoly box and asking them to play a game during an intensive professional development experience. In our 4th day of a four week institute, we have already begun to bond, building trust and opening up, willing to be vulnerable even when faced with difficult topics and challenging situations.
The group seemed almost giddy about the thought of playing…even though based on the previous three and a half days, they knew this was not simply a board game break. They started by forming groups of five or six and then selecting a writing utensil from a plate on their table. A colored pencil, a smelly marker, a highlighter, an SDAWP pencil, and either one or two Crayola markers were mystery icons of the game to come. After spending time as a group reviewing the written rules of the game and setting up to begin, the significance of the choice of the writing utensil became apparent.
Those holding the Crayola markers were asked to begin playing…the others at the table were only allowed to watch. In my role as observer I got watch as some started to play with trepidation while others raced forward with delight…”Hurry, let’s get what we can while we can!” After the first player or players had played for five or ten minutes, the second group of players were invited in. At indeterminate intervals and not knowing which category would be called next, the players who waited and watched seemed to withdraw and lose interest in the game.
This version of Monopoly, which immerses players in an experience where everyone plays by the same rules…but the game is still not fair, is adapted from an article by Jost and Jost. Our goal is to get our participants to think about equity beyond what is experienced by individuals and consider the systemic influences of poverty and racism.
As the game continued we saw our participants behave in some interesting ways. Those that entered the game early seemed to play either with zeal…or with the weight of guilt on their shoulders. They frequently assumed the role of helper…often moving the pieces for their late starting peers or even acting with seeming generosity, offering “get out of jail free” cards or waiving some small rents due to them. The late starters either become apathetic about the game or downright devious…sneaking money from the bank or even wishing to land in jail so they wouldn’t have to pay fees that they saw coming as their money dwindled with each turn.
We saw early players become rule sticklers…at one point carefully explaining the rules to a late starter.
When time was called on the game, players were asked to take note of the results and then sent off to reflect on their experience. What did they notice about themselves, their peers, the experience? What implications does this experience have for them as educators, parents, human beings?
Our discussion was rich and layered…and sometimes downright contentious. This experience opened up space for talking about systems: economic, social, educational…and the differences in access and equity that are often dismissed or not considered with our more typical focus on individuals. And we’re not finished with these discussions…because although there are some who might ask, “What does equity have to do with the teaching of writing?”, we know that equity plays a crucial role in who has access to high quality teaching and learning…and who can see themselves as successful learners. This game “hack” is just a beginning for us…we have much more in store in our next three weeks!