Category Archives: social justice

How do you connect to the world?

Screenshot 2015-07-19 17.59.21

Current World Events

That was a title on a board that has been in a few rooms when I’ve taught Social Studies. The idea is that students need to connect with what is happening in the world.

Sounds simple.

Not really.

With the different worldview students bring to the classroom, world events can be a somewhat hotspot for discussions. Events around the world aren’t simple, not that they ever were. But we are now beginning to discuss what previously was non-discussable and that can be difficult in a classroom.

What are some of the different options that teachers have when trying to use current world events as points of discussion in the classroom? How can they address some of these issues? What if they have no idea where to start?

Avoidance

One option is not to. It’s sounds rather odd that the events happening in the world would be ignored but, for some teachers, this is the simplest way to avoid any type of controversy. Surface treatment of issues that mentions or references events can pass as “covering” if techniques of “read the article, answer the questions” is used. Short discussions that name people and places pass as covering the issue as teachers, worried about what might be said, avoid discussions or debates that might come up and certainly avoid any discussion of privilege, discrimination, oppression, persecution and other discussions that may make people, including the teacher, uncomfortable.

It’s important to reflect upon how our actions and words impact and influence students. When I began teaching, I wasn’t aware of my own privilege or how it provided a very narrow worldview of events that took place in the world. As I have been made aware of my privilege and come to understand that this privilege taints my own view of events, using world events in my own teaching has changed.

As a young teacher, I use to think that I had a pretty good idea of the different points of view of various events. Naive as I was, it did not stop me from using various sources to examine and open discussions about events as they took place. As the opportunity to connect with others became easier, the opportunity to see different views of events also became easier. Just as the images in a kaleidoscope change as you turn it, so to do views of any event change depending on the point of view. For a teacher, it can be somewhat difficult to know what to do or how to approach any topic in the classroom.

It  can be a challenge. Most definitely.

But the great thing is that students can often lead us if given the opportunity.

But we have to be willing to speak up.

Being Quiet Isn’t An Option

Early this year, David Theriault wrote a post The Injustice of Staying Quiet. Like all great posts, this one has had me thinking since I first read it. David makes some great points as he describes his own journey, one where I glimpse myself a few times but, truthfully, is much different from my own childhood growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan with little exposure to other cultures.  I was unaware of the various privileges that I had as I grew up and it wasn’t until much later in life I began to realize how this influenced my worldview and the impact it had on my teaching. My mother, who has had a great influence on me, was a leader, one of the first females to serve as a union representative, working at many projects as she raised three children and took care of my father who was hurt in an accident.  I was aware of being different,  not having the same “normal” family made one an outsider but I didn’t realize until much later the great sacrifice she made or the abuse she suffered because of her work. To this day I am forever grateful for all that she taught me, and still teaches me, about helping others.

When David says

And that’s one of the points I would like to make. If you are not listening to other voices, it’s hard to move beyond your fixed notion of what is right and wrong. What we call, in my family, social justice.

I still struggle with uneasiness, unsure of what to do or what to say, fearful that I will offend someone because of my lack of understanding or my ignorance of what is happening or simply because I do not understand at all.

So I remain quiet.

That is a mistake.

Connecting Students with the World

This past Thursday during #saskedchat, our topic for the chat was Connecting our students with the World. It was focused on different ways that teachers can use current events in their classroom. During the chat, I kept wondering how teachers approach social justice issues with students. Teachers offered ideas for discussing issues with students such as using different sources to examine how different points of view reporting the same issue and how social media sources such as twitter can be used for social justice issues. Whatever we do, I agree with David:

So what can we DO?

Well I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t make excuses and we can’t just ignore things and hope they will go away.

I highly recommend you take a moment to read through David’s whole post as it is extremely thoughtful and thought provoking plus David has taken the time and effort to add some great resources. One great resource that David shares is a social justice twitter list with different people on twitter that I recommend following. However, for me, one of  the greatest resources that David provides is his honesty and straightforward approach to the subject and his challenge for educators to address social justice issues.

How Do I Connect?

Just this weekend, Vincent Hill, someone who I know via twitter, shared  the resource Speaking Truth To Power with me that I then shared with others. Twitter is a great place for finding and accessing different resources for the classroom such as Unpacking Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,  The Truth and Reconciliation Report , and an article focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Report. 

But what good are resources unless we are willing, as David says, to set aside our own “fixed notion of what is right and wrong.” and begin to question what is happening? To start bringing these issues into the classroom? To open up the dialogue with students?

I don’t have answers. In fact, I have many questions and am still uncertain about so many things. One thing I am certain about though is that, as teachers, we cannot avoid talking about these issues. With so many resources available and, more importantly, access to people who can help us and speak to students about these issues, there is someone who is wiling help us if we just reach out and ask for their help and guidance. We live during one of the greatest periods of change in history and it’s important that we involve students in discussions about what is happening.

I Wonder….

So often our focus is planning and assessment, an almost obsession with assessment in its various forms, that relationships and the changes society and the world are experiencing seem mere data points on someone’s data chart.

…. what might change if we began with the conditions and stories of students lives before we worried about which assessment tool/format teachers were using?

…. if learning is truly the goal, why we are fixated with assessment instead of all the wonders of learning and possibilities that are available for children to explore what is happening in the world?

…. if helping students develop skills for the future, why so much emphasis is placed on knowledge of the past?

…. how teachers might change their practices to allow for more opportunities to explore various societal issues in meaningful ways?