Onno Hansen-Staszyński & Beata Staszyńska-Hansen
Among current adolescent students, an ‘acceptance divide’ seems to exist. On the one hand, there seems to be a vast majority of students who accept themselves and their immediate surroundings and in return are accepted by these surroundings. The level of this acceptance is not influenced by external factors. The relation of this majority with anything beyond their immediate surroundings is challenging: communication with others is met with little enthusiasm, as are new and demanding situations. On the other hand, a group of 10–20% of adolescents seems to exist who do not accept themselves and/ or have no acceptance relationship with their immediate surroundings or beyond.
In a default classroom, as a result of their challenging relationship with anything beyond their immediate surroundings, adolescent students on regular basis display negative behavior such as reluctance, disrespect, and hostility, towards each other and their teachers. Over time though, the majority of students starts to show growing respect, support, and autonomous behavior in the classroom. On the surface, it might seem that the sphere of their acceptance has been widened to include the teachers and their fellow students. Below the surface though, the potential for negative behavior only grows and can flare up at any time. Students on the flip side of the acceptance divide can function as catalysts.
When a divisive topic like disinformation is introduced to the classroom, the authenticity of the positive behavior displayed in the classroom is tested. The moment students feel that a topic threatens their relationship with their immediate surroundings, their sense of belonging is under threat. The most likely response to this threat is to fall back to the negative behavior below the surface. With the levels of affective polarisation having risen in the recent past, ever more topics have the potential to trigger a serious breakdown of classroom relations.
A way to prevent a breakdown of classroom relations is by actively trying to using interactionist didactics to make all students feel seen, heard, and safe, including the students on the wrong side of the acceptance divide. In the program (adT) the following elements are implemented to achieve this:
· Rules are in place enabling student freedom within transparent limits;
· Communication involving all students starts structured (one-on-one, only ‘I statements’, random selection) until a behavioral groundwork is achieved;
· There is a build-up in the divisiveness of topics;
· Student revolts are encouraged and met by the teacher through a peer-to-peer response.
As a result of these elements, the potential for negative behavior by students is not growing and over time might even diminish, while the level of negative behavior declines. And, students experience a widening of their sphere of acceptance. But, this widening takes more time and effort to achieve than the default version. While the new acceptance goes deeper than the default version, it is not as deep as the acceptance between students and their immediate surroundings, nor should it be. The acceptance forged is behavioral in nature.
Because of the new, behavioral acceptance by students, the introduction of divisive topics like disinformation in the classroom becomes less risky: negative behavior is less likely to flare up, and even when it does, it does not have the potential to cause a serious breakdown of classroom relations.