Stay in the Mix for Valentine's Day

Celebrate Valentine's legacy of love and resistance!
Grade Level

Did you know ...

  • The origins of the Valentine's Day holiday are rooted in resisting injustice. Most stories focus on a man named Valentine who lived in the third century, during the Roman Empire. In one, the emperor, believing unmarried men would make better soldiers, issued a decree banning soldiers’ marriages. Valentine believed this was unjust and performed secret marriages. Imprisoned for doing so, Valentine fell in love with the jailer's daughter and sent her letters, which he signed, “Your Valentine.”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. once proclaimed that if peace is to be achieved, “man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Source: Responsive Classroom and Shambala Sun (July 2006)


Student Voices

Injustices routinely occur during Valentine’s Day—moments of exclusion and ostracism, assumptions of a heterosexual norm. Here are two stories of students addressing such injustices.

Something happened in my school last year. We made big paper envelopes shaped like hearts with pockets in the front. We taped them to the front of our desks until they were ready to be filled with candy and cards. After it was all over and everyone walked around handing out his or her goodies, I looked down at my bag and was satisfied with what I got. I looked at a classmate sitting next to me, a new kid who had arrived just a week earlier. He had almost no candy, and he looked really bummed. When he wasn't looking, I slipped half of my goodies into his bag. When he turned around, I saw a look of excitement and joy in his face.

–Devon Phelps, middle school student

[When I wanted to take a same-sex date to a school dance] my vice principal told me I'd need a note from my parents. The note was supposed to acknowledge that they were aware we were taking someone of the same sex to the dance, and that there could be security problems. I was told I'd need a note for every dance I attended. So would my date.” (Pointing out that no African American, physically challenged or heterosexual students were being forced to obtain permission to attend a dance, the student called the requirement discriminatory.) “[The vice principal] said, ‘There's good discrimination and bad discrimination.’ I told him that discrimination is discrimination.

–Jason Atwood, then 17, whose demands sparked a student walkout and other protests leading to removal of the restriction just prior to that year’s Valentine’s Day dance


Discussion Questions

  • If you give Valentine's gifts, do you give the same thing to everyone in your class, or do you save special cards and candy for your friends? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever felt that Valentine's Day made people feel unpopular, like it did the student in Devon's story? On what do you base your answer?
  • What do you think of Jason's story? Could—or has—that happened at your school?


Activity Ideas

  • Have K-3 students write Valentines to students in grades 4-6. Tell the K-3 students to finish the following sentence: “One thing I really like about you is...” Students in grades 4-6 will be shocked that younger children not only know them but also are watching them. This will give older students a sense of the responsibility they have in modeling kind behavior to their younger classmates. Encourage the older students to write letters of reply, thanking the younger students for their compliments. (Grades K-6)
  • The "resisting injustice" theme behind Valentine's Day intersects well with the other popular school observance in February, Black History Month. Using King's quote (above) as a prompt, students can work in small groups to create definitions of love and artwork to illustrate their definitions. Create a hallway display or an online gallery using students' work, or arrange for the small groups to deliver—and teach—their “Valentines” to other classrooms. (Grades 7-9)
  • State bans on gay marriage—and the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage—echo the “soldier marriage ban” in the Valentine story. An excellent, and balanced, lesson is available free on the PBS website. With the extensions provided, the lesson also is ideal for structured dialogue within—or between—extracurricular clubs. (Grades 9-12)


Books in the Mix

The Day It Rained Hearts, written and illustrated by Felicia Bond, is a story about a girl who gets caught in a rainstorm of hearts. Each heart is different, so she collects them to make Valentine's cards for everyone she sees. (Grades PreK-3)

Katherine Grace Bond's The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation, illustrated by Don Tate, tells the story of a boy named Marcus who uses St. Valentine’s story to understand the plight of civil rights workers in 1960s Alabama. (Grades 3-6)

GirlSource: A Book By and For Young Women About Relationships, Rights, Futures, Bodies, Minds and Souls goes right to the source to give teenage girls answers they want and need on loving themselves first. (Grades 7-9)

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Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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