George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teaching to Fight Injustice

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     I've been teaching high school English for 13 years and was recently struck by the idea of teaching as a tool to fight injustice in the world. Although my journalism students discuss this on an almost daily basis, how do I do that as an English teacher? The teaching profession is conducive to training students to fight injustice as they encounter it in life. The question is, how?

     Consider this excerpt taken from by Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning by Henry Giroux,

     " . . .empowering students with the skills and knowledge needed to address injustices and to be critical actors committed to developing a world free of oppression and exploitation."

     I'm thinking just this month how I've been teaching students to write narratives since it will be required for college entrance essays and might be on the California High School Exit Exam. I'm realizing I have the wrong idea.

     Maybe I should be teaching them to write their narratives as a way to fight injustice. They can tell their stories of injustice to fight injustice. This would give them an authentic, real world problem and would show that telling their story is a way to fight that problem. Now their writing has more value than passing a future test.

     Just a thought. Fighting injustice with education is a new idea to me. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

 


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Kim Kim's picture
Kim Kim
English Teacher, Sacramento, CA

I'm flattered that anyone read my post, now my head is getting huge because you're asking for my ideas.
I was thinking about your students on probation. (I've also taught kids who wear the ankle bracelet.) Maybe you could introduce narrative writing as a way to communicate. For example, you could show the youtube video by Ben Breedlove ("This is My Story") and ask your students why he wrote this narrative. (He wanted to share the common human condition--fear of death--and how this event changed him. Then they could write about events that changed them, made them realize something about the world, themselves, or other people. They can even do their narratives on notecards like Ben Breedlove did.
After that, they can read narratives by other people and identify common themes that humans like to share with each other. For example, there are a lot of common themes of injustice that the kids could relate to if you have them read excerpts from the following books: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," "Black Boy," or "The Joy Luck Club." They can then move to write another narrative about a time they discovered injustice in the world. It can start small like a time a friend betrayed them or a teacher was unfair, and it can move to bigger like the time they saw racism or an authority figure treated them badly. It would be excellent if they could share their writing with a larger audience. School newspaper maybe?
Another journal idea: a time they hurt someone, a time they were unjust.

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Kim Kim's picture
Kim Kim
English Teacher, Sacramento, CA

Wow! I just visited this site http://www.motheringacrosscontinents.org/MemesForPeace/postcard.php#pane... which showed the memes your students created. What a great idea! I am humbled to be in the profession with educators that are creating such a synthesis of literature, history, justice, and world change for students. I noticed the site had a link which could help me use the memes/postcard plan to create my own lessons. I really needed a plan like that. I'm about to start a new job at an IB high school so I need to come up with ideas that involve projects around real world problems. This idea is perfect. Thank you again for sharing this.

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VT's picture

Thank you, Kim!
I have a student in an ankle bracelet. Another on probation for two years for smoking pot. Others on "OSS" probation from their home schools. I am eleven days in and these students have excellent content with narrative and essays. I played MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech in the bg while they continued narratives on Social Injustice last week. This week, a YouTube video of Shonda Rimes commencement speech at Dartmouth while they addressed, "The pen is mightier than the sword" quote, and what it means to him/her. My small classroom is excellent in narrative content. Amazing that in 7th and 8th grade levels there is no punctuation. (I am a screenwriter from LA and don't mind this, but accommodating academia and core standards demands that I address it...).
I will incorporate your ideas tomorrow. How did education come to students being discarded from classrooms to probationary status in our Innovative Learning Center for incidents like:
- "Stealing"
*My student took ONE power bar from a teachers desk. The drawer was a reward drawer filled with snacks. This student, my excellent writing student, lives with his family in a homeless shelter. He took one piece of food from a drawer filled with food. And, he was expelled. I treasure this student. Here we are in America. And, here we are...

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VT's picture

This is an fantastic. Thank you for the share!

From the Kim Kim 10/10 Post:

"For example, you could show the youtube video by Ben Breedlove ("This is My Story") and ask your students why he wrote this narrative. (He wanted to share the common human condition--fear of death--and how this event changed him. Then they could write about events that changed them, made them realize something about the world, themselves, or other people. They can even do their narratives on notecards like Ben Breedlove did.
After that, they can read narratives by other people and identify common themes that humans like to share with each other. For example, there are a lot of common themes of injustice that the kids could relate to if you have them read excerpts from the following books: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," "Black Boy," or "The Joy Luck Club." They can then move to write another narrative about a time they discovered injustice in the world. It can start small like a time a friend betrayed them or a teacher was unfair, and it can move to bigger like the time they saw racism or an authority figure treated them badly. It would be excellent if they could share their writing with a larger audience. School newspaper maybe?
Another journal idea: a time they hurt someone, a time they were unjust."

Again, Thank you! Please, continue to share. You are helping a screenwriter turned educator, educate amazing talent.

Michelle@CommonLit's picture
Michelle@CommonLit
President & CEO at CommonLit.Org

Hi Kim Kim,

Your dedication to inspire students to fight injustice through their education is inspiring. I think the point of education is to make students better people--morally, socially, etc--and the main way to do this is through exposing students to great stories, works of literature, and important historical events. As Colum McCann said, stories allow us to develop empathy by introducing us to the experience of the "other."

Not many people know about us yet, but I had to post about our new website, CommonLit.Org where we are working to develop a free collection of the best short stories, news articles, poems, and short stories. Check it out! I'd love to know what you think, and if you would like to be involved in helping us grow our collection.

Michelle
www.commonlit.org

Dr. Jennifer Davis Bowman's picture
Dr. Jennifer Davis Bowman
Adjunct Professor of Education

I agree that encouraging students to write about their own story is powerful. I love how you give a regular assignment (essay writing ) meaning and purpose.

As we continue to face the sadness with the injustice of the legal system (particularly with people of color), I feel that writing about our own personal experiences (experiences with injustice /unfairness/inequalities ) will remind us that we do have something in common.

I added a discussion thread recently that speaks to the need for educators to respond to students' interest with injustice (Ferguson). I would love to get your thoughts. Take a look:
http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/8-reasons-teachers-stay-quiet-about-f...

I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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VT's picture

Oh how I love this blog. Where to begin... Did I mention I am in the South? South Carolina. I am still a Cali resident, but am a first year teacher in SC. I feel the great luck of finding your blog has been the foundation for my bit of success with my students. I only have my students for a transitional 9 weeks. We are an Innovative learning Center (not so innovative from a west coast stand point) and a "last stop" for most of these students. THEY are hesitant, or rather muted, to discuss Ferguson, Garner, Rice, Martin... *Fight back tears. *Fight back rage. *Teach. But, my students who are below the poverty line (which from a west coast experience is third world poverty, ie no electricity, living 5 or more in a one bathroom home, and the only meals my students eat during the week are at school), feel intimidated to discuss Social Injustice EXCEPT as an assignment in which their topic is determined. I considered that perhaps my students don't have access to the news or television on a daily basis? So... Dr. Bowman, in response to your query, I am determined to face the topic head on. I want my students, who are 90% of color, 100% of poverty, to know that they have a voice. I feel in our "Innovative Learning Center" which is to me "A Thoroughfare to DJJ", students are not comfortable admitting that they are aware of these injustices. I have been begging students who are constantly given OSS for "talking" to practice SILENCE AS POWER. And, to further confuse them, I am introducing that they use their VOICES AS POWER. I call my students' parents on Fridays. The parents tell me that they have not have a teacher contact them other than to convey negative behavior and pending suspensions. I am off track now but... Is it Socially Justified to contact parents, especially of "at risk" students only to share the negative? These young minds, inspiring me daily with their thoughts, their timid thoughts? I am saying this! Talk about our current social injustices! Talk about it all. Talk until the talking makes a difference. Talk like the difference matters. And, talk like you aren't afraid of the discussion. That's my lesson plan. My curriculum.

*Social Injustice = NOT inspiring young minds to make a difference?

Kim Kim's picture
Kim Kim
English Teacher, Sacramento, CA

I agree that it's a type of institutional injustice for parents to only receive a call from the school when it's negative.
I've also experienced comments from parents who are surprised when I'm calling to praise their child.
If you research institutional injustice, you will find that one type is when people in an organization are treated as if they aren't important enough to be communicated with. When we fail to communicate with parents about their children, we are treating them as if they aren't important in the equation.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

"When we fail to communicate with parents about their children, we are treating them as if they aren't important in the equation." YES! I feel like the default assumption is that parents of challenging kids re the reason the kids are challenging, that they're the enemy (or at least a co-conspirator) rather than a partner in helping the child. If I've had one conversation with a mom or dad who was desperate for ideas, I've had 100. We need to engage parents as allies. Thanks for a great post Kim Kim.

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