The World Day of Social Justice takes place every year on February 20th. If you’re an educator, this day (or through the week leading up to it) is a great opportunity to teach students about current social justice issues and why they matter. Whether you’ve already begun introducing students to social justice or this is the first time you’ve focused on the subject, here are some helpful resources:
Teaching Tolerance is an organization that provides free resources to teachers, counselors, administrators, and other educators who work in kindergarten through high school. Founded in 1991, it’s a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The program emphasizes social justice and anti-bias. The “Classroom Resources” tab is a great place to start, offering lessons, learning plans, films, teaching strategies, and more. You can search for resources and filter by grade level, topic, social justice domain, and subject. With the Lesson Plan Builder, you can create, save, and share your own lessons.
Founded in 2006, this resource uses the power of story to teach students about issues like climate change, poverty, migration, and food insecurity. Using articles, photo essays, webinars, and films, the project features individuals and communities affected by issues that may seem abstract to some students. Through story, students are encouraged to use critical thinking, listening skills, and empathy. You can find lesson plans for elementary school, middle school, and high school grade levels. Global Oneness also offers in-depth companion study guides and conversation cards for selected films.
DoSomething is the largest social change non-profit for young people. Through its digital platform, it has millions of members across the world. On the website, students search for various social-justice themed campaigns, activism projects, and public education. The idea is for students to take charge of their own projects, so as a teacher, your role can be a supportive one. When students have chosen a project, you can ask them to write an essay or give a presentation about why they selected the campaign. The whole class can learn about the issues that matter to them. Most of the campaigns are best for high schoolers, though some are a good fit for middle-schoolers, too. When students have completed a campaign, they submit a video or photo that proves they’ve finished. U.S. students then become eligible to win prizes and scholarships.
The CMP is a free media-literacy web resource. Designed with educators and students aged 8-21 in mind, this resource strives to boost critical thinking and empathy. Its mission is to raise critical awareness and offer tools that “decode” media representations of gender, sexuality, religion, disability, race, and more. The website is packed with media examples such as movie and TV clips, newspaper articles, viral videos, satire, and more. Teachers and students can analyze and discuss with questions like, “Who created this message?” and “What points of view are represented or left out from this message?” Media playlists include “Feminism,” “Disability in Media,” and “Race & Ethnicity in the Media.” Students are encouraged to tell their own stories, create their own representations, and participate in society.
What to remember when teaching social justice
No matter what curriculum you choose, it’s important that you thoroughly review what it contains. Teaching resources are very helpful guides, but at the end of the day, the teacher is responsible for tailoring the content to their students. Here are some other things every teacher should keep in mind:
Self-awareness is important
A person’s background and beliefs impact how they view social justice issues. Before digging into a curriculum, a class should be self-aware and comfortable with each other. In an ideal world, a teacher will have already encouraged students to think critically and examine their own perspectives, biases, etc, but depending on the age group, this might not have been prioritized yet. As the teacher, it’s also essential that you think about how you’re viewing social justice issues. Self-examination and self-awareness will significantly enhance a social justice curriculum.
Social justice issues can be emotional and controversial
It’s highly unlikely that everyone in your classroom will agree with one another. Social justice issues can be controversial, but that doesn’t mean they should be avoided. It’s a great opportunity for students to learn how to communicate with people they disagree with. It’s also important to bear in mind that certain students may be emotionally impacted by discussions. As an example, Student A has same-sex parents while Student B doesn’t believe gay marriage should be legal. For Student A, any discussion or disagreement on this topic isn’t an educational exercise; it’s their real life. Teachers need to know what social justice issues personally affect their students. Certain topics might need to be avoided or handled with extreme sensitivity to ensure everyone’s emotional safety.