This discussion guide shows instructors how to engage with dominant narratives and “perfectly logical explanations” (PLEs). Dominant narratives are well-known and widely accepted explanations or narratives that are typically in service of the interests and ideologies of dominant social groups. Those who use dominant narratives employ PLEs to provide context and justify their perspective in order to avoid being judged. The guide below is focused on a discussion about video games, but it is designed to exemplify the types of questions that could be raised to critically interrogate any dominant narrative. This activity helps students recognize the weight and power of dominant narratives and teaches students how to rigorously interrogate dominant narratives.
This activity asks students to create a timeline of their lives, noting particular lessons they have learned about some aspect of their social identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.). When completing this activity, students can refer to the Cycle of Socialization handout, which offers a diagram to represent the socio-cultural construction of social identities. Both the timeline and handout allow students to reflect on the ways in which students reinforce or challenge the socio-cultural construction of identities.
This activity asks students to create an imaginary school designed to maintain oppressive norms. Students will consider what institutional oppression looks like and how it is perpetuated in subtle ways. A debriefing discussion will take place after the activity, encouraging students to compare their imaginary school to their own institution. Students will also brainstorm ways in which they can resist and challenge the oppressive norms they’ve identified.
“Who Owns the Zebra?” is an activity involving a logic puzzle and a debrief discussion. For the logic puzzle, students are divided into groups, and the groups have to determine which of the fictional characters in the puzzle owns a zebra and which of them drinks water. Each student in the group is given a vital clue that is needed to solve the logic puzzle, necessitating everyone’s participation. During the debrief discussion, students reflect on the impact of individual behavior on group learning, thinking critically about participation and barriers to participation.
In the Core Values Exercise, students will rank a list of values, such as self-acceptance, authority, health, stability, service, and belonging, from “always valued” to “least valued.” They will then translate their “always valued” category into a chart of their own core values. Students will share their core values with the rest of the group and generate a list of shared values together. This activity is designed to engage students in self-reflection and evaluation.
BARNGA is a simulation game that encourages students to critically consider normative assumptions and cross-cultural communication. BARNGA was created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. He and his colleagues were trying to play Euchre but all had different interpretations of the instructions. He realized that conflict arises not only from major or obvious cultural differences but often from subtle, minor cues. He created BARNGA to tease out these subtleties. In this activity, students play a card game silently, each operating with a different set of rules, unbeknownst to them. Following the game, there is a 3-part debrief: Descriptive, Applied, and Takeaways. Descriptive focuses on students’ feelings and frustrations throughout the game, Applied focuses on the real-life situations that BARNGA simulates, and Takeaways asks students to consider important lessons from the game.