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Learning at its Best, School Stories, Student Voices

Let’s play: “Stand on the Line”

While progressing through my MA studies, I met with a young woman (I do not denigrate her youth, for she is only one decade younger than I am, but her outlook and attitude certainly were “youthful”) whose open expression of her life experiences affected me quite deeply. She was born and raised in Utah; her mother was of the White Earth Nation and her father a White Euro member of the Church of LDS.

She is, to say the least, very bright. With an undergrad degree and an MA, for a number of years she taught at a charter school in Salt Lake City. She is currently a 2-L at MSU College of Law working toward a JD, seeking certification in “Indigenous Law”.

Her interest in me focused on my two decades of experience practicing law, while my interest in her was upon her heritage and teaching experience. She had, while teaching civics and social science classes played “Stand on the Line” with her adolescent students. The majority of her students came from less-than-average income households and further included a fair number of youths recovering from domestic violence, substance abuse and other problems.

The students that played the game, at least by way of ‘anecdotal evidence’, showed improved academic performance and, at least as important, had moderated some of their behaviors.

“Stand on the Line” is a simple-yet-complex game. She would start the day by asking her students to “Stand on the Line” with her, a line actually drawn on the floor. “Whoever had breakfast this morning, come stand on the line”… some students would get up and stand on the line with her. “Whoever did their homework last night, come stand on the line”… students would shift places.

After a bit, her students began to express agency and started asking their fellows to “come stand on the line” with them. Many matters arose. Some were nice. Others were, well, not so much.

  • Seen a drug deal going down? Come stand on the line.
  • Been called a ‘nigger’?* Come stand on the line.
  • Been beaten up? Come stand on the line.
  • Seen someone shot? Come stand on the line.

For the life of me, despite all the good intentions of policy makers, the public, parents and teachers, I think that the most important issues are missed in their entirety when it comes to the subjects of ‘the children’ and ‘education’ – there are few who are willing, or able, to “Stand on the Line” with the students.

* I know the “N word” is offensive, but saying “N word” does not carry the impact of the word itself. As an attorney who has represented clients the epithet/lable has been applied to, I know it is very real, and is used much more frequently than many would prefer.

About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS. JD and an MA, I have practiced law more than 25 years. "The Truth shall set you free", but only if it is a Personal Truth that is based upon facts. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope (see,


8 thoughts on “Let’s play: “Stand on the Line”

  1. Anyone who would be more offended by the “n-word” than by a system that fails to address the deeper social and community injustices is someone who doesn’t truly understand the power of language or the effects of injustice.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | November 23, 2011, 12:30 pm
  2. I can only stand on the line for #1 and #3, but I can definitely see how this “game” would highlight the issues facing inner city youth today. I wonder how powerful a visual of this “game” would be with actual students being video-recorded as they play.

    Posted by dwees | November 23, 2011, 12:55 pm
    • I think even youths in “White, middle-class” suburban, small-town and rural communities might benefit as well — many things take place outside the classroom environment:

      • Have ever you wondered what “they” are doing in ‘your’ mall? Come stand on the line.
      • Did you think “she” couldn’t deck you? Come stand on the line.
      • Did you think an atheist could not be kind? Come stand on the line.
      • Did you think that Sikh was a Muslim terrorist? Come stand on the line.

      I would be concerned that “being on camera” carries the potential for an external audience that would skew the spontaneity and leading to a bit of acting (too many ‘reality’ shows). My friend indicated she established an environment of trust that enabled her students to feel comfortable with, and express, their agency. This required that she expose part of herself as a Native raised in an LDS ‘mainstream’ household.

      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 24, 2011, 8:50 am
  3. We played a game at IDEA camp called Common Ground, which was much the same. I think it is a good way for any community to learn more about each other and see that we all have many more common grounds then we realize. It helps to give voice to the group but also a connection that is often missing in school, a personal connection!

    Posted by dloitz | November 23, 2011, 1:50 pm
    • The personal connection certainly seemed to be an important issue with my friend’s students, who were largely disengaged from society and school given the circumstances of their lives. Although her students were not ‘mainstream’, I believe that even the mainstreamers might benefit from learing that their personal life experiences may not be as exceptionally good or bad as they might be lead to conclude through top-down descriptions of the American Life.

      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 24, 2011, 8:55 am
  4. The essential moment – for me – came when the teacher put the kids in charge of the game and, by extension, their community in that classroom. Both the teacher and the students rose to a higher ideal of learning in that moment than the ideals of gatekeeping and academic achievement.

    Something like this game might be what I’d recommend as an action-item for those of us in our classrooms. If thousands of classrooms did this at once, that would be a powerful demonstration of all the good and bad that unites us despite how hard schooling tries to separate us.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 24, 2011, 10:56 am
    • Chad,

      Growing up ‘in-between’ cultures, I think she felt quite free (or perhaps compelled) to share her ‘wealth’ of agency with her students, and each began to perform better academically and socially.

      I hope you try it out and let us know what happened.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | November 24, 2011, 12:16 pm

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