Consensus in the Classroom

One of the interesting aspects of the #Occupy movement for me is the General Assembly driving the decision-making and ideology of the groups gathering in cities around the world. Modeled on non-violent means of protest as old as civil disobedience itself, the General Assembly operates on an egalitarian process of generating consensus that I can’t help but find eerily similar to the type of decision-making and values TALONS teachers strive to place at the center of our class’ learning on a daily basis.

I stumbled across the above video on Google+ yesterday, as did apparently Michael Kaechele, who posted the following questions in a post on Teach Paperless this morning:

  • What is actual democracy?
  • Is the current government of the United States a democracy?
  • Whose voice is most important in an democracy?
  • For PBL it is a great example of how student groups should function.
  • What are the weaknesses of this form of government?
  • Does this scale to a national level and what would that look like?
  • How can we make sure more opinions are heard and given a true seat at the table before decisions are made?
  • How can we implement the consensus model in schools?
  • How could the consensus model be used in your classroom?
  • How could the consensus model be used with students in curriculum planning and design?

These are questions that should be up for almost constant debate and discussion within a democracy, and surely within our classrooms, if we hope for them to be raising engaged and empowered citizens of our students.

Detractors of the #Occupy movement are quick to point out that it is “slow,” “messy,” or “unfocused,” seemingly without awareness of the fact that the most “efficient” form of government would be a dictatorship. Surely the process of representing the diverse voices of the most complex, interdependent global society the world has yet known will be a difficult and frustrating task to be realized (especially if it decides to eschew the soapboxes of traditional media and government), and I raise this point not to debate the validity of the protests or their root causes, but rather to hold up this idealized form of democracy-in-motion and ask, Is education up to the challenge?

4 thoughts on “Consensus in the Classroom

  1. Hello Bryan, I’m back! My name is Jonathan Giles, I attend the University of Alabama and I’m currently enrolled in Dr. Strange EDM 310 class.

    I enjoyed reading this post on Consensus in the classroom. I think it is unbelievably important that we have our society and especially our student’s think outside the box and express themselves. The Occupy movement is all about accountability and encouragement to be engaged with what is going on around us. It seems our government isn’t up to the challenge, but hopefully education will be.

  2. Hey Jonathan,

    Glad you found your way back, and that you enjoyed the post. I agree that part of the interesting piece of the Occupy protest and meetings is the idea of thinking beyond what we have at our disposal right now – or outside of the box. But I also feel daunted, as a citizen in a democracy, and a teacher, by the thought of being capable (or preparing students to be capable) of participating actively in, following, contributing or moderating something like the General Assembly.

    Historically, freedom is able to grow in leaps and bounds when more people are able to have their voices heard – the invention of the printing press, or numerous civil rights movements, etc – but we are also taught that these progressions are seldom easy. But it is exciting to think that our schools are at the center of this journey.

    Hope your studies are going well,


  3. Not only is the question of democracy interesting in this movement but so are the issues around communication and voice. The hand shaking and blocks, the human microphones, the call and response – these are compelling (if, as often remarked, cumbersome) attempts at flattening the power structures of communication and opening the door to broader participation.

    How might this translate to the classroom? Most Canadian students have run across the “talking stick” at some point, in which only the person with the stick (or other object) in hand may speak and where that object must be passed about for discussion to continue. Another approach which can help highlight quiet voices is to follow small group discussion with a larger discussion in which speakers can only represent someone else’s idea, rather than their own (thus putting the big talkers into the position of highlighting the opinions of their less assertive brethren).

    Quaker silent meetings and Hawaiian talk-story are quite different approaches. Quaker silent meetings require silence both before and after speech, with the intent that the silence will facilitate thoughtful reflection and will prevent head-on debate or conflict. Talk story, on the other hand, is predicated on the idea of a shared, collaborative narrative, making use of overlapping, participatory speaking. Here’s a link to classroom use of talk story and here’s an outline of the idea of a Quaker silent meeting, followed by a short piece about a New York high school putting the idea into action.

    It might be interesting to see what result the diverse approaches yield on who participates and how the discussion proceeds and what kind of ideas rise to the fore. Do different people participate? Do different ideas emerge?

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