BY: LIZ JORGENSEN
“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
― Nelson Mandela ―
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
― Martin Luther King Jr. ―
Mandela and King are two of my heroes. They were intelligent, organized, insightful, articulate and most importantly, would stop at nothing to achieve justice. As English teachers, we are blessed with being paid to help our students achieve these traits as well so that they can in turn go out and change the world.
And I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic or cliche sense—there are students in our classrooms who, because of a topic that we read or talked about or because of the speaking or writing skills that we taught them or because of a new perspective that we instilled in them through discussion, will in some capacity work to fight against that injustice for others.
It is vitally important for the next generation of compassionate justice advocates that we expose students to both what is deeply amiss in the world and also examples of those who are doing something about it.
The videos below are a start down that path. They all show a person or organization that has recognized a problem around them and has creatively worked to solve root causes of that problem. They are inspiring examples of people who were not ok with the status quo, thought long and hard about what would actually help solve the problem, and then made their big plans into actions. If you can get through all of these videos of transformational change without tearing up or wanting to quit your day job to go work for them, you are a more stoic person than I. Check out these videos, and afterwards, I’ll share how I use them and also other ideas of how you could use them.
Veronica Scott has a heart for the homeless. She created a prototype of a coat that could be turned into a sleeping bag and started giving them to people who were without homes. That is, until she realized that what many of these people ultimately wanted was a job and a fresh start. She began hiring homeless women to produce these coats, which has helped these women pay for housing because of the source of steady income. Coats? Easy to create. Opportunities for jobs? Harder because that requires trust, mentoring, and long-term investment in the messy lives of people. But both are necessary.
It takes money to make money. Kiva gives microloans to people in developing nations who have the drive but not the resources to start a small business. This enables investors to contribute to the efforts of a would-be small business owner on the other side of the world, effectively enabling the philanthropically-minded with a way to build into systemic change and economic development in a community. Even a small loan can go a long way, so you don’t need to be a Kardashian to get involved.
So, why hair dressers? One of the root causes of the often prolonged and unknown quality of domestic violence is because abuse victims feel pressure to keep their abuse quiet. Hair dressers work up close to their clients and can often spot well hidden head and neck trauma or scars. Also, they often develop friendships with their clients and can be a safe haven for someone who doesn’t know whom to trust.
For certain segments of society, obtaining a job is a near-impossible endeavor. For no one is that more true than the formerly incarcerated or those convicted of a felony. However, if we believe in forgiveness and giving people second chances, it’s pretty cruel to release them from prison and then prevent them from obtaining the very thing necessary to life on the outside: a job. Greyston Bakery has an open hiring policy, so to get hired, a prospective employee puts their name on the list, and Greyston Bakery hires people in order of the list, no questions asked. There are opportunities for anyone who shows aptitude to work their way up into a manger position, as does the employee featured in this video.
I am a long-time fan of the Heifer Project. Heifer raises money to donate farm animals and crop seedlings to distressed farmers in developing nations. They train recipients about how to care for the animals and crops. These gifts can produce both food and revenue for the recipient’s family, and the family is encouraged to share offspring of their animal with other local families and to train them as well. As Alton Brown says in the video, “It is a gift that grows and may be the best, hardest working gift you will ever give. And that, my friends, is the recipe for lasting change.” Indeed. Also, Heifer allows you to give gifts in a person’s name, so maybe instead of getting your mother-in-law another knick-knack for Christmas that will sit on her mantle until she donates it to Goodwill, buy a goat or a flock of geese or a colony of bees for a family in her name. Less clutter for her to deal with, more good for you to accomplish.
My particularly education-averse students are always surprised by this video because they cannot fathom children wanting to go to school even if they are not forced to do so by adults, truancy officer, or courts. It is fun to watch their incredulity as they see passionate and articulate girls talk about their deep desire for education and how they are prevented from achieving just that because of where they were born, the society they live in, or their economic status. Malala understands that oppression of women begins with preventing education because lack of education leads to lack of opportunity, and she is out to break that cycle by funding schools for girls who would not otherwise be able to be educated.
Ok, so these organizations are awesome. But how do I use these in the classroom to inspire my students to create lasting change in their world?
Great question, reader. Below are some ideas.
1. Conduct a Research Project
I use these videos as an anticipatory lesson for my research unit. I have students watch these videos in stations around the room and answer these three questions about each video:
- What is the problem that this organization is trying to solve?
- What is one of the root causes of this problem?
- How does this organization work to combat one of the causes of this problem?
Here is the document for that activity: World Changers Intro Stations notes sheet
Then, the next day, I explain that we are going to be conducting research about problems, the roots of those problems, and workable solutions to the problem. Below is a snapshot of my project. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@LizJorgenTeach) if you want more research and details on this unit because I have all the things that I would be more than happy to send to you if you would like to do this project or adapt it.
- Choose a problem that exists in your community, the nation, or the world which interests you.
- Research causes and solutions for your chosen problem.
- Write a research paper arguing causes of the problem (why the problem is a problem) and a solution (how the problem may be combatted). Points = 200
- Write a proposal of something that YOU could do to motivate Spring Mills High School students to take action against this problem. Points = 50
*These proposals will be read by a committee of teachers and staff, and one will be chosen to be actually implemented at SMHS.
2. Write an Editorial
*Insert Shameless Plug here for Journalistic Writing and Publication*
I feel that it is my duty as your friendly neighborhood journalism teacher to remind you of the power of authentic audiences in writing. And also, most school newspaper teachers (and local newspapers as well!) LOVE collaborating with other teachers to publish student work! How about having your students write editorials outlining a problem and creative solutions to that problem? Below, I have a document that I have made to introduce my newspaper students to editorial/op-ed writing. This protocol could be easily adapted for a project like this. Also, here is a link to my school’s online newspaper editorial column to give you some examples of student-written editorials.
3. Use as a Spring-board for Non-Fiction Literature Circles
There are so many amazing non-fiction titles that have been published on problem-solution and social change topics in the last few years. Why not apply for a grant to get a handful of copies of each and have your students read them together in groups? Here are just a few personal favorites:
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
- What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte
- Dopesick by Beth Macy
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Not for Sale by David Batstone
- Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd
- A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
- Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford
- Evicted by Matthew Desmond
- The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
- The Slave Next Door by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Disclaimer: The above books vary in length, difficulty, and graphic nature. Use discretion when deciding whether they are academically and developmentally appropriate for your group of students.
I could wax eloquently on the academic benefits of social change and service learning projects, but I think that I will leave you with a quote from Malala which not only applies to the girls in parts of the world which restrict education for women but also applies to our students as well:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
That one teacher could be you. Let’s go change the world.
Liz Jorgensen (formerly Keiper) is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @LizJorgenTeach.
WVCTE is wondering…
- What are other ways that you include social activism and change into your curriculum?
- What service learning projects have you implemented with your students?
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