Ethnodrama Origin Story
Community Allies Founder, President
A sense of belonging is the pride of being associated with a place and the feeling of being at home somewhere. William Arthur Ward once stated (Team, 2021), "Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice."
I remember when I first experienced the power of making change through collective action. I had taught high school English, French, and Humanities for five years, seeking to engage students in sorting through real life together from the classroom. As I was wrestling with how best to teach predominantly white students about cultures and histories of inequalities outside of their experiences, 911 happened.
My real world approach suddenly felt intense. After two years of tracking with the aftermath of 911 on how students responded to a real world approach, I took a break to study my practice with other teachers.
I returned to St. Louis and joined the newly started, now called Educators for Social Justice. There, I encountered teachers from K-16 with whom we reflected on what they taught and how they taught and its impact on schools and communities.
In the words of Audre Lorde," Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy. (Valeria, 2021)" I learned how schools, non-profits, and parent groups could work together through curriculum fairs to make a change for a better tomorrow - still happening today through ESJ.
The joy of being on a team of change-makers who were changing lives together meant everything to me. For so long, I had felt on my own as a teacher, and very little in my school helped teachers collaborate.
I went to graduate school and began to explore how youth could engage in similar change-making efforts from the classroom.
Before long, Marsha Pincus, a pioneer educator in ethnodrama, began to share with me how she used ethnodrama to help students talk across their stories and their differences.
I jumped back into the middle and high school classroom. I began experimenting with how to get students excited about reading ethnodramas, intense research/based plays that captured the perspectives of many people following tragic events.
I learned over time through trial and error how to help students find ways to discover and invest in learning their own stories and one another's stories through dramatic role-play that helped them find what they had in common.
I ensured they had the freedom to determine what they wanted to study about society and what data they wanted to collect and use to answer their questions. In one of my early class processes, students discovered a collective interest in exploring gender norms and binaries.
At first we used drama to explore their personal stories, which they were slowly discovering through songs they had collected and performed and inquired into together. As they began to experience their own gender stories, they moved to want to learn about the experiences of their moms, all single.
This collaborative inquiry into gender became the class larger inquiry that lasted for six months and became the topic of the ethnodrama they performed. It set in motion an inquiry that just kept becoming more and more layered as they discovered new areas about gender constructions and expectations that they had questions about, especially as they related to imposed gender binaries and expectations for genders to align with sexual orientations and societally determined ideas about masculinity and femininity.
Their questions and biases ran deep. We used drama to trouble and expand their perspectives.
On the day of their performance in front of three grades of school classmates, students didn't show up. I had to hunt them down and ask them why they didn't want to perform. They explained they were afraid their peers wouldn't get it. And really, what I realized was that they hadn't yet committed to their message. They, too, were still learning.
In the course of performing their ethnodrama, they allowed audience members to perform their versions of gender. It is quite a story, but suffice it to say that a peer challenged them in a way that helped them come together, rediscover their purpose and their message, and experience collective action that set in motion ripples of new thought.
Students got to learn together by doing. And their six months of layered collaborative discovery turned to better awareness of how to work together to advocate for gender identities that did not limit expression by binaries that boxed people.
Team, K. (2021, November 4). 60 Best Belonging Quotes About Identity And Finding Your Place. Retrieved from Kidadl: https://kidadl.com/articles/best-belonging-quotes-about-identity-and-finding-your-place
Valeria. (2021). Gratefulness. Retrieved from Word for the day: https://gratefulness.org/word-for-the-day/tomorrow-belongs-to-those-of-us-who-conceive-of-it-as-belonging-to-everyone-who-lend-the-best-of-ourselves-to-it-and-with-joy/
Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.