If there’s one thing that should give us hope about the future, it’s that many young people today are more tolerant than previous generations and deeply care about social justice. Thanks to social media, young people have instant access to the world’s problems, and they’re increasingly expressing their disapproval with what they’re witnessing. This instant access is transformative, but it can also be overwhelming.
Social justice is achieved through patience, hard work and sacrifice, and social media promotes a heightened state of perpetual motion. Information leaves one’s Twitter feed as quickly as it comes, and just as someone takes the time to reflect on a terrible tragedy, another one starts trending. As a result, many young people care about social justice issues but often don’t know what they can do to effectively make change. Below are some engaging ways that teachers can expose students to social justice so that they leave school with a sense of purpose and a strong belief that they can make a difference in the world. While applicable to any classroom, these strategies are especially useful to grades 7-12.
8 Ways to Teach Social Justice:
1. Integrate Social Media
Now more than ever, activist groups mobilize online. Teachers can use social media to teach students about “hashtag activism,” including its benefits and limitations. To provide an example of an assignment, teachers can ask students to research various social justice groups that use social media and then choose one group to present to the class. What do these groups do? How do they use social media? Are they effective or not? Bonus points can go to the students who make an effort to reach out to the groups.
2. Take Advantage of Project-Based Learning
If teachers want to take social media integration a step further, they can have students start their own social activist groups. Social media outreach can be one part of this, but students should also be expected to interact with like-minded activists (fellow classmates or neighborhood friends) in person. The goal of this project-based learning assignment is to see if students can effectively jumpstart an activist group, and if so, how they use this activist group to make change. The best part of this assignment: even students who don’t “succeed” will learn a lot about social justice in the process.
3. Engage Students with Video
As great as it is to get students involved in contemporary causes, it’s equally important to expose them to social justice activists who have been successful throughout history. Feature-length films like Selma or Erin Brockovich are bound to inspire students, as are shorter, more contemporary TED Talks or YouTube videos. Whatever the case, videos about social justice can be more impactful than literature because the visual medium more effectively taps into the viewer’s emotions.
4. Make Readings Relevant
At the same time, students should learn how to engage with texts and make them relevant to their daily lives. Teachers can guide students to do this by connecting literature to contemporary issues. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for example, is a canonical text that most high school students are required to read. Why not connect the play’s theme, political ambition and the corruption of power, to the contemporary political landscape? This enables students to engage with otherwise outdated texts, while at the same time, encourages them to learn more about the contemporary world by connecting the characters in texts to real people. Students can even get into heated discussions about which contemporary politicians they believe to be most like Macbeth.
5. Assign Memorial Projects
When learning about history, students can sometimes feel hopeless. This is especially true when it comes to tragic historical events like the Holocaus. One way to overcome pessimism and persuade students that their voices matter, that they can bring justice into the world, is to assign memorial projects. With these projects, students actively engage with the past on an emotional level, which will inspire them to change the present. This matters, as the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminds us, “for the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” That is, when students learn about the tragedies of the past, they’ll be less likely to repeat them.
6. Invite Guest Speakers
Sometimes students want to hear from someone else besides the teacher. This is an opportune time to invite guest speakers into the classroom. These speakers can range from Holocaust survivors to community organizers to artists—anyone who devotes their life to social justice. Thanks to digital technology, these speakers don’t always have to show up in person, as teachers can use Periscope to livestream their talks.
7. Encourage Classroom Collaboration
Teachers should create a collaborative classroom environment that promotes community-based learning. Rather than have students complete assignments by themselves all of the time, they can work on projects with their classmates. For example, teachers can assign a group of three or four students to research a particular social justice cause and then present to their classmates ways to get involved in this cause. These simple group exercises expose students to different points of view and encourage students to work together to resolve conflicts and come up with solutions, despite differences and disagreements. What’s more, when students are allowed to work together, they are more engaged in the learning process.
8. Lead by Example
Finally, teachers must lead by example. That is, it’s not enough to ask students to promote social justice if teachers aren’t doing it themselves. At the beginning of the school year, teachers can establish a clear set of positive classroom policies that value inclusiveness and tolerance. It goes without saying, but teachers should always respect student input and never belittle students or make them feel inferior. If comfortable, teachers can bring a little bit of their personal lives into the classroom and let students know which social justice causes they care about. This establishes credibility and lets students know that social justice ultimately must be pursued outside of the classroom.
Most of these engaging social justice lessons revolve around digital technology. Teachers may be daunted by this and think that it requires a lot of time and effort. To the contrary, teachers can integrate this technology within a matter of minutes. With LiveTiles Mosaic, a free UI design solution for any K-12 class with an Office 365 tenant, teachers can create a user-friendly digital classroom that combines all of these relevant social justice teaching tools. OneNote can be used for group projects, social media can be used to share relevant ideas and there’s even a tool that allows teachers to embed videos. As the screen shot below illustrates, Mosaic is a practical and powerful way to bring social justice in the classroom for tech-savvy students that will want to access the learning materials at any time from any one of their mobile devices.
As globalization presses on, students are made aware of the many problems that need to be solved, from world hunger to climate change to disease prevention. A strong social justice education will prepare students to solve these problems, one small step at a time.