It happens instantly and never once do you question that it should. The camera pulls back from the animated short to reveal the fridge is real, the set is real, the director is real, but the birds, the birds Roger, those are wrong. And just like that we're in the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It's done so seamlessly that by the time cartoons are lifting cigars and glasses bourbon we don't even notice. When a cartoon rabbit bounces on the bed our brains register the impact wrinkles his feet cause but we don't think about it. After all, that's what happens when someone bounces on the bed. And when a hanging lamp is bumped and swings back and forth, we never stop to consider the amount of work it would have taken to get Roger colored, shaded, and lit just right in every single frame. Why should we? That how things work in the world where a human-populated Hollywood is a stone's throw (or rocketing Yosemite Sam) away from ToonTown, where all our favorite cartoons live in peaceful, copy write free happiness.
Classrooms are like the world of Roger Rabbit. Yes, we're preparing them for the real world. Yes, there are elements of reality in our classrooms, and it's as real as we can make it. But laid over all of it is an air of fiction. A classroom is an artificial environment. Even classrooms that try to avoid the artifice can't. Oh, you've set up your classroom like Starbucks? And you're saying Starbucks is laid out to be as natural as possible and not and artificial environment to make you comfortable so you spend plenty of time there and buy lots of coffee? The classroom comfort tricks can all be boiled down to making kids more comfortable, to hide the animatronic skeletons creating the unreality, to helping them buy in to the world we're helping create so they want to spend time in the world. And the more efficiently it's done, the less the kids notice, the smoother the transition from the outside world to ToonTown (there is zero chance my classroom isn't basically ToonTown in this metaphor).
How is this magic accomplished? In the movie the filmmakers planned every single interaction down to the second and smallest movement. They had no choice, the characters were painted directly onto the frames of the film. They used robots and puppets on set to manipulate objects in the real world and then had to meticulously paint over each frame, keeping in mind shading, camera movement, and eyeline. Every time a toon interacts with something live it had to happen on set. There was no CGI fixing it in post. Imagine that level of preparation to do what amounts to a magic trick. All that work to ensure the audience never sees the amount of work that went into it. When the move works best is when Roger is smashing plates over his head or zooming past a light or smashing through a window and your brain never once goes, "Wait, how..."
In my classroom I don't want my kids to see the strings. They don't need to know the work that went into what's happening. I want them to buy in and not notice how unusual a classroom really is. It's not bad, it's hyperreal. It's more, bigger. In my class there are puppets and cardboard. I'm not trying to make it "real". Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't work because it's real. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and my classroom, work because they are True.
The elements of reality are there. We can step into the real world at any time. The things that happen in my classroom are directly tied to the real world. Lessons learned in my classroom relate to the real world. The toons can influence humanity, and humanity can influence the toons. But it works because the truth of the situations stays firmly in place. That's why you can get ridiculous and huge, because it all feels true to the world you've created. The rules work. When Eddie goes into ToonTown he survives by following the rules laid out in this utterly mad environment. Except it's not mad, not when you know the rules that govern it and make it true. Knowing the rules, using the rules, these make Eddie successful both in our world and theirs. The rules adhere to the truth of the situations.
Find the truth first and students will follow you to any world you want to create together.
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.