‘We Must Keep Moving’ – Social studies lesson focuses on equality, justice

Discussions involving social justice are sensitive and can be difficult for teens, especially when it comes to talking about equality and justice. Sara Kenzie is a social studies teacher at Grand Center Arts Academy. Her seventh grade classes cover topics like geography, culture and social justice. A recent classroom lesson guided students through excerpts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Montgomery Story” from 1956 and President Barack Obama’s remarks at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. DSC_0114 web For more photos, see Ms. Kenzie's Classroom website. After reading and comparing the speeches, students worked through their thoughts with writing prompts. Some of the questions were “Why did Dr. King believe people involved in the Civil Rights Movement had to ‘press on’?” “Do you agree that standing up to racism and injustice is a moral obligation? A matter of self-respect? A demonstration of love? Why?” “How do you feel that the same themes show up in speeches that were given by Dr. King and President Obama 57 years apart?” DSC_0088 webBefore breaking into small groups to talk about the questions, Kenzie reminded students to “be sensitive to opinions. This is not a time to argue, it’s a time to hear each other, to listen and be respectful.” “We have ongoing conversations around social justice issues throughout the year, but for this particular assignment we set some norms for our conversation beforehand,” Kenzie explained. “We discussed ways to make sure all students’ opinions were heard without fear of judgment. Some examples of norms we discussed are: ‘We do not have to agree on everything, but we do need to be good listeners and try to understand each other’s point of view. It is okay to respectfully challenge someone by asking appropriate questions, but it is never okay to personally attack each other. Participate fully and speak from your experience.’”20140304_105002_web Each group chose someone to speak and share after the conversations. The comments revealed thoughts about discrimination, stereotypes about race and culture, Trayvon Martin, language, treating people with respect and treating others equally. “I chose to use these excerpts to raise the questions ‘How far have we come in our quest for equality and justice?’ and ‘How far do we still have to go?’” said Kenzie.

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“These speeches were written more than 50 years apart yet contain common themes. We discussed, ‘Why is that?’ They were chosen to provide support for the “We Must Keep Moving” idea. Additionally, they are excellent examples of powerful speeches given by two extremely important African American figures in our history.”

The lesson continued through an art display, “We Must Keep Moving.” Students traced each of their feet on paper. On one foot, students illustrated a benefit they experience as a result of the Civil Rights movement. The other foot illustrated personal action to ensure the work keeps moving forward. The footprints will line the halls of the third floor to symbolize the steps being taken to move ahead. How do you find inspiration to illustrate justice and equality?  Nakara Trimble used Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” She explained the story of the Lorax and the Truffula trees. “He was trying to preserve the last tree,” she said. “I think it represents togetherness.” Susan Gibbs created her designs based on friendships with others. “Some people are more comfortable with other races. But those friends could be ignored if it weren’t for the Civil Rights movement.” “I’m writing an ‘I am’ poem,” said Charlie Anderson. She will write “I am…” then fill in the blanks. She was busy drawing lines to guide her work, not quite yet ready to write her thoughts. “If I didn’t have my friends, I wouldn’t be anywhere,” said Halley Stein. She explained that her sketch would have the word 'friends' overlapping and would be colored in black, white and gray. Carlos Brickhouse was still waiting for inspiration. “I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said. He wasn’t the only one. Many students were still thinking through their ideas.

Kenzie noted common themes among the illustrations.

“For the first foot, students’ common themes were related to the friends they have and the opportunity to attend a school with a diverse population. On the second foot, common themes were standing up for each other, promoting diversity in their community, and understanding and appreciating differences.” The lesson led to other conversations about social justice. “A common discussion topic brought up by students as a result of this lesson was about bullying in all forms, as that directly relates to things they may experience or hear about more frequently. Some students also brought up issues regarding homelessness, poverty and other related social problems,” said Kenzie. “Social justice lessons are important for students because they open up conversations that are not always easy, but are extremely necessary. Understanding diversity, tolerance, justice and respect for differences is essential for our students, inspiring them to be both caring and critical,” she continued. “We learn to embrace and appreciate our differences while also learning to ask the tough questions. Social justice conversations push students to become good listeners, critical thinkers and active participants in their communities.”

[Articles and Photography by Nez Savala of Confluence]