A veteran human rights educator explains the value of teaching students to call each other in rather than out.
Most teachers look for opportunities to build a human rights culture and to counter hatred, bigotry, fear-mongering and intolerance. One way to do this, when students make a mistake, is to call them in rather than calling them out. Doing so prepares them for civic engagement by encouraging a sense of hope and possibility.
In conversations and debates about social justice issues, insisting someone take responsibility when they say or do something hurtful—regardless of their intent—is a common way to protect vulnerable communities and individuals. It’s often necessary, but not every correction allows both parties to move forward. Calling out happens when we point out a mistake, not to address or rectify the damage, but instead to publicly shame the offender. In calling out, a person or group uses tactics like humiliation, shunning, scapegoating or gossip to dominate others.
Calling in is a technique that does allow all parties to move forward. It’s a concept created by human-rights practitioners to challenge the toxicity of call-out culture. Calling in is speaking up without tearing down. A call-in can happen publicly or privately, but its key feature is that it’s done with love. Instead of shaming someone who’s made a mistake, we can patiently ask questions to explore what was going on and why the speaker chose their harmful language.
Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives. They encourage us to recognize our requirements for growth, to admit our mistakes and to commit to doing better. Calling in cannot minimize harm and trauma already inflicted, but it can get to the root of why the injury occurred, and it can stop it from happening again.
Teaching calling-in practices means teaching students techniques to avoid escalating conflicts and to relate to each other in affirming ways. When we teach call-in skills, we create what we need for ourselves and our students: brave spaces in which everyone understands that people make mistakes, that people come from diverse cultures and languages that may use words differently, and that people should not be punished for not knowing the right words to say. When we call students out instead of building a call-in culture in the classroom, we contribute to increasingly toxic and polarized conversations. And we make learning less inviting.
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