Learning for Justice: Teaching Activism and Civic Engagement in the Classroom

Maddie Alpert/ Yellowstone Public Radio Students in Connie Michael's fifth grade classroom at Crow Agency

Dr. David J. Childs
Northern Kentucky University



Online Learning
Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Introduction
With the effects of the coronavirus looming, the challenges of online teaching and learning, as well as trying to teach youth how to be civically and social justice minded teachers and parents have their hands full in our time. There is a sharp divide in the US on best approaches to respond to social justice issues. Indeed many people on the political right do not even think that the US has major issues as it relates to social and racial justice. Regardless of one’s political affiliation there are many obtsacles to overcome related to diversity and equity. A great resource available to teachers and parents for teaching about social justice issues is the Learning for Justice website (Formally Teaching Tolerance). We would like to highlight a great resource from the Learning for Justice entitled Teaching as Activism, Teaching as Care by Jamilah Pitts.

Teaching as Activism, Teaching as Care
Pitt provides some suggestions for teachers who want to get their students involved in civic engagement and activism. They are list below:

  1. “Provide journal responses, or space for free writes, for students to reflect or share their feelings on what is happening. Allow students space and time to process difficult feelings and emotions that are coming up for them now.
  2. Check in with families and students whose lives may be even more difficult right now, asking them what they need. 
  3. Create and send care packages to family and students. 
  4. Choose texts that can open up a conversation around what is happening right now.
  5. Provide space and time for mindful moments for students (as many students may be completely worried right now). 
  6. Create project-based assignments and lessons that allow students to use their social media platform to bring light to injustice, disparity, and to communities and their leaders
  7. Develop writing assignments wherein students write to public officials to raise awareness about their communities. 
  8. Teach about elections and the importance of elections, given the disparities that are deeply exposed now. 
  9. Have students write letters soliciting donations for families or other children who may be in need. 
  10. Allow students to guide what their learning might look like now. Carve out time to listen in to students’ thoughts, feelings, fears and frustrations, as well as their sources of joy.” 

Conclusion
In a recent article we have written about the importance of average citizens being civically engaged and the idea that people view meaningful civic involvement as being done by only the political elite. We encourage teachers and even parents to integrate the ideas mentioned above with youth, even if you have a little hesitation. Jamilah Pitts and the Learning for Justice website provide many great ideas to get our youth politically engaged.