We are living in a time of social revolution. Within the past few months, we have witnessed society completely restructure itself to limit the spread of a potentially lethal virus. We have changed our means of interaction with one another. We have seen the supreme court pass nationwide laws protecting LGBTQ people from employment repercussions based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We have witnessed uprisings for racial justice after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain. We are, perhaps, witnessing the second coming of the 1960's human rights movement--but this second coming is further complicated by social distance.
Social change, in all its excitement, devastation, heartbreak, and hope, is a complex issue that can be difficult to address with children because of its sensitive nature. There are several ways to address complex issues with children, however, and it is of great benefit to them that we adults are brave and overcome our own fears and biases to do so.
When speaking to children about difficult, controversial, or sensitive subjects, honesty is the golden rule. Too often we "protect" children from the harshness that can sometimes be reality, in essence sheltering them from what makes us uncomfortable. Doing so is a complete disservice to developing empathetic people who are agents of social justice and positive, humanistic, societal change. Denying the full truth from our children begets silence. Silence, in turn, begets complacency. Complacency begets surrender. And surrender begets stagnation.
In addition to embracing honesty, it is important for us to show children that they are capable of creating social change, even in youth. Just below, you will find a link to a Google Doc that has an extensive lesson plan (including supportive materials) that addresses creating social change by authoring a persuasive petition on change.org and tracking the number of signatures it receives.
This project is best suited for students who already have prior knowledge in:
Systems of power and oppression
Challenges people face because of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status
Social justice and activism
Identity formation (surveys, “I am from” poetry, etc.)
Core value identification
Overcoming personal and community challenges/adversity
Responding to others with empathy/vulnerability
Gathering and citing reliable evidence
If students do not have sufficient prior knowledge in these areas, you can provide direct assistance to them and use this as their first lesson in the areas listed.
Ultimately, when we are honest with children and show them that they can be agents for social change, they learn that we are all different--but we are all the same in that. By standing together, we can avoid falling alone.