Students and Civil Disobedience: A Reading List

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The right to public protest is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, but it’s often presented in the classroom as a historical relic–or an activity solely for adults. Here are some resources that can expose students to this type of activism, both in the past and happening here and now.

Note: resources are grouped by suggested age-level, but may well be appropriate for students of many ages.

For elementary grade students:

  • Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside, by Kenneth Braswell, as profiled at The Root. Braswell’s book deals with contemporary Black Lives Matter protests as well as previous civil rights protests. Written for kids ages 6-9.
  • From Watch the Yard, a great reading list: “10 Multi-Cultural Children’s Books about the Importance of Protesting that Every Child Should Read.” Titles cover the March on Washington, the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mama Miti (Wangari Muta Maathai)–and that’s just for a start.

For middle-grade students:

Gwen Gamble had just been released from jail and didn’t want to go back. Shortly before the crusade, the teenager had been arrested for participating in a lunch-counter sit-in and jailed for five days. “We were put in with people who had actually broken the law. It was scary. They weren’t nice,” says Gamble, who was 15.

She and her two sisters were trained by the movement to be recruiters for the Children’s Crusade. On the first day of the march, they went to several schools and gave students the cue to leave. They then made their way to 16th Street Baptist.

“We left the church with our picket signs and our walking shoes,” says Gamble. “Some of us even had on our rain coats because we knew that we were going to be hosed down by the water hoses.”

  • More information on the Children’s Crusade appropriate for middle and high school students can be found at Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia.

For high school students:

Despite warnings from teachers that there could be consequences for ditching class, students said they were proud to stand up for their beliefs.

Yesenia Flores, 15, a sophomore at Roosevelt High, held a sign: “Trump makes us fear for our lives.”

“All I’ve wanted to do is make my parents proud,” she said. “I can’t make my parents proud if they’re not here.”

Blanca Villaseor, a sophomore at Collegiate Charter High, said she was protesting the president-elect on behalf of her parents. The sign she was holding read: “Latinos contra Trump” — Spanish for Latinos against Trump.

Suzanne Rueda, 15, a sophomore at the downtown Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, said she’d been protesting since the day after the election. As of Monday, she hadn’t been reprimanded for missing class, but she said she’d heard an announcement that morning over the school intercom that students who missed school could be suspended. She thought that was misguided.

“It feels like we’re leading ourselves,” she said. “We can’t vote. This is all we can do.”

The Civil Conversations Project

A Resource for Fostering Discussion

The public radio show “On Being” curates a series of interviews premised on the idea that people with opposing viewpoints can communicate calmly with one another. The series, called The Civil Conversations Project, aims to provide “tools and resources for renewing civic discourse at every level and nourishing common life.” It features audio, transcripts, writing, and activity guides appropriate for high school students and beyond.

Students can to listen to inspiring conversations between, say, opponents and proponents of gay marriage or abortion rights. Or they can try their hand at cultivating conversation among classmates or community members who come at issues relating to race, religion, economics, and the environment from differing or opposing perspectives.

The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) is an open, ongoing conversation offering tools and resources for renewing civic discourse at every level and nourishing common life.

In addition to the recorded interviews (podcasts), there are two guides for download. One, called Ask Three Questions, is for starting one-on-one conversations. The other is Better Conversations: A Starter Guide.

Great ideas, and the podcasts model the principles beautifully.

Beating the Bystander Effect: Part II

For older kids and adult students, The Atlantic‘s City Lab has a six-step guide for standing up to a bigoted attack. This article dates from 11/15/16; it’s written with an eye to recent events and increases in harassment and hate attacks.

Notable here is step 4, detailing why it won’t always be the right strategy to contact authorities.

Doug Meyer, a gender studies scholar at the University of Virginia and the author of Violence Against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination, says that if you witness a verbal or physical assault on a person of color and/or a LGBTQ individual—identities which are obviously not mutually exclusive—it’s crucial to tread carefully before getting an authority figure on the scene. “They might have had negative experiences in the past and don’t want it reported to the police,” he says. In any circumstance, make sure that the victim is safe before doing anything else—and then check to see what they’re most comfortable with.

United for Intercultural Action, a “European network against nationalism, racism, fascism, and in support of migrants and refugees,” has a guide/lesson plan for practicing some of these interventions. Scenarios include addressing racist attacks on the bus and in the pub , and the guide does a good job of breaking down the preparation, scene, and analysis steps to successfully conducting the exercises.

Often civil courage is associated with bravery, valor and heroism. But acting courageously often begins in everyday situations. Civil courage is not about playing the hero. It means listening to your inner voice telling you that something has happened which is not right and that you should do something against it.

This leaflet is about the need to “do something”. It shows why civil courage is needed and how it can be trained.

The resource also has a ten-step summary of what people can do in these situations. They also nod to Theater of the Oppressed and the way that theater games can provide a safe space for rehearsing these kinds of situations before they occur.

Next up, how Theater of the Oppressed can be especially useful today.

 

Beating the Bystander Effect: Part I

Reports of hate crimes and harassment have increased since the election. Several places are tracking these reports; a great place to get a current picture is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch. (To note, as expected, this link does contain offensive language and racial slurs.)

How do we prepare students to resist this kind of social situation? One way is by teaching about the bystander effect. This is the first in a short series of posts about ways to model and rehearse effective intervention with studentshopefully before they are in a situation where they need to act.

First up is an article from The Greater Good that includes both notes on research, observations on how the bystander effect plays out across developmental stages in young children, and some tips on teaching kids to move into action.

Research points to a number of ways we can do this:

  • Explicit teaching. “It might be a good idea to teach children about the bystander effect and its consequences, and responsibility in helping situations, from early in development,” says Plötner. Other research suggests that explicitly communicating responsibility and singling out children individually (“I will be counting on you”) increases their helping.
  • Modeling. Preschoolers are more helpful and sympathetic to children who hurt themselves if their own caregivers display kindness and compassion. “It could be helpful if authorities model helping in bystander situations, so that children learn about the positive consequences of such actions,” adds Plötner.
  • Environmental cues. In one study, simply exposing children to a subtle image of two dolls facing each other was enough to increase helping in 18-month-olds. Schools could use that kind of imagery, along with slogans like “It’s my job to help,” to create a kinder environment.

And from Quartz, here’s a basic step-by-step procedure appropriate for older students about how to intervene safely in a racist attack. This article is short and includes some great concrete tips that high schoolers in particular might find helpful.

  • Speak only from your own perspective. Too often people start speaking for the person who is being attacked. This stops the victim from speaking up, who is likely to do so if he or she finds support from bystanders. For instance, if a person is being abused for wearing a hijab, don’t say that the victim does so because of her religion. Instead, speak about how people have the freedom to choose how they dress.
  • Ask others to help. In most situations, you are likely to outnumber the attacker.
  • Use your camera. Racial attacks are a criminal offense in most countries. If you don’t feel comfortable engaging directly, you can record the event on your phone. This could be vital evidence to punish the perpetrator in the future.

More to come!

Mountain View High’s Frank Navarro Back in the Classroom

The Mercury News is reporting a resolution to the suspension of Frank Navarro, a teacher at Mountain View High School in Mountain View, CA.

While Navarro is happy to be back in the classroom–and his students are happy to have him back–there’s some discrepancy about why he was removed in the first place.

As The Mercury News reports,

In a letter to parents sent Monday, [Principle] Harding stated that “freedom of expression and academic discourse are the cornerstones of our schools” and also said that “the teacher’s paid leave was not for teaching a lesson comparing Trump to Hitler.” The letter said the district received a complaint and needed to investigate “to ensure the emotional safety of all of our students.”

But Navarro said that last week Principal Dave Grissom and Associate Superintendent Eric Goddard said they were placing him on leave for discussing the election. Only on Monday, Navarro said, did Harding tell him the issue was “maintaining a safe environment for kids.”

“It’s really curious they didn’t discuss a safe environment on Thursday,” Navarro said, when he was ordered to remain off campus until Wednesday while the district conducted an investigation.

It seems clear that outside pressure had an impact. Harding seems taken aback at how quickly the story, and pushback, went global. We here are encouraged, especially given that coverage began with the school’s student newspaper.

small stones Lesson Plan: Contacting Your Representatives

Contacting Your Representatives

A sample lesson plan for middle school through community college students

Goals:

  • Students will work together to communicate their opinion on an important issue with their senators and congressperson.
  • Students will think and talk about congressional districts and how they come to exist.

Important Vocabulary:

  • Senator
  • Congressperson
  • Senate
  • House of Representatives
  • Districts
  • Redistricting
  • Gerrymandering

 Preparation:

  • If students will not have access to research tools, ID local and state representatives and have their contact information ready to share.
  • Using the US Census site, prepare to display your state or regions’ map of congressional districting lines.
  • Decide how best to group students—preselected groups, self-chosen groups, etc. You might also choose to group students whom you know live in the same area (i.e., will have the same representatives).
  • ID the roles that you’ll use with your students. Be mindful that students’ citizenship or immigration statuses could impact how comfortable they are taking certain roles or giving their names to representatives.
  • Decide whether students will be contacting their representatives about issues of their own or whether the class will focus on one or two issues in particular.
  • Come up with a method for calling or writing representatives that will work with your students. You might have them make calls during class time using a school phone, for example, or they may be responsible for emailing representatives out of class.

Continue reading “small stones Lesson Plan: Contacting Your Representatives”

Calling Representatives: Handy Instructions

Good news! There’s something really easy that you can do, that we can all do: call your two Senators and your Representative’s offices and tell them to publicly and vigorously oppose the appointment. Don’t email. Don’t tweet. Don’t fill out the online form. Call. Calling works best. Especially if a lot of us do it.

Gabriel Stein has written a quick, easy guide to calling your representatives. Students can do it too! Congresspeople and senators are constitutionally mandated to represent the people in their district, not just eligible voters.

Next post, an example lesson plan for one way to integrate this kind of outreach into a classroom.