Romantic Cognitive Tool: Change of Context

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Feudalism - the 1000 year old ‘f’ word!
Romantic Cognitive Tool: Change of Context

My students had never heard of feudalism until one fateful day when I decided to invade. In lieu of just providing a definition of feudalism, I wanted to embody the core and essential characteristics of feudalism. That meant a change of context and a little role playing.
Introduced by William the Conquerer, feudalism is characterized by two things; it is a contract with obligations and a distribution of property. I spent one lesson explaining how Normandy came to be and how William, a descendant of the Viking Rollo, decided to cross the English Channel and pursue his claim on the English throne. We discussed the epic Battle of Hastings and the massive take over that ensued. As an activity, I had my students sign a feudal contract and I stamped it, just to be official.
*I recreated the contract using the notes from our class text.

Example excerpt: “I promise to serve in the King’s army”.
Having said that, a teacher could rewrite the contract to make it relevant to a class context.

Example: “ I promise to participate in class discussions”
The following class, I explained that I (channeling William) was going to rally my class (grade 8 Social Studies) and we were going to ‘invade’ and take over a grade 12 class, ironically it was Law 12 who had volunteered. I promised my students that they could have the desk (property) and could make demands of the grade 12s (vassals), like...”do my homework”. I also encouraged my students to scribble in the notebooks: “property of _______(name)”.
Armed with a plastic bow and arrow, I deposed the said Law teacher and established myself as the new authority. Timid at first, my students positioned themselves in the chairs while the grade 12s, bewildered and confused, sat on the floor. A few students exerted their power and took pens, notebooks and one brave student sat in the teacher’s desk. I reminded them that they were nobles and deserved the rewards I was giving them. I also mentioned that I would protect them, in case an administrator tried to stop us (elements of the feudal contract). We were there about five minutes when one brave grade twelve student stood up and sat back down in her desk. When asked what she was thinking, she replied, “no body is stopping me”. A lesson to my students: establishing yourself as the rulers takes commitment and enforcing. I used this incident to connect the invasion role play to our ongoing class discussion on justice and power in a feudal society.
Some comments from the invasion reflection:

* “The other class looked really surprised. I was embarrassed but it felt like we ruled them”.

* “It felt empowering”

* “The grade 12s wanted to fight back and start a revolution but they didn’t. It was funny”.

Additional activities:

  • students complete an ‘invasion reflection’ where they record what they saw, heard and felt

  • students were asked to write a paragraph about whether they thought William was a hero or a tyrant

  • as a final assessment, students must answer the question: In the Medieval times, who had the most power?

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