This activity is to accompany the Teaching Tolerance article "From Awareness to Action."
Tips for Teachers
Looking for ways to get your students involved in activist causes? Here are some ideas, several of which were supplied by Tracy Beck, advisor to the Awareness and Activism Association at White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, Ontario.
- Expose students to a variety of causes.
You never know what may inspire them. Alec Loorz knew little about global warming before seeing An Inconvenient Truth.
- Put a face on global issues.
For instance, you could engage students in Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign. Celebrate International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 by writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders who are at risk around the world. For more information, visit www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon.
- Consider issues both near and far.
Some students may be especially interested in a project that allows them to support people in distant countries. Others may want to help members of their own community.
- Look at “awareness days and months” for ideas.
For instance, if you are interested in global education issues, International Literacy Day is observed each year on Sept. 8.
- Let students generate ideas.
Sometimes clubs or projects will form spontaneously because of student interest.
- Keep the focus on raising awareness about a particular issue.
It’s sometimes easy to get so caught up in the project or activity that the underlying issue gets marginalized.
- Explore the power of partnering.
When two or more groups work together to support a cause, the effects are multiplied.
Start an Activist Club*
Starting a club or group at your school can be a great way to address race and gender issues in the school as well as in the community in which you live. Forming an antiracist, unity or a multicultural club can be a great way to spur dialogue between students, students and faculty members, and among faculty and administrators. This type of dialogue is important in creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable.
In a setting such as a high school or middle school, it is important to determine a faculty member or group that will help guide the students. A supportive teacher should help to bridge the gap between both generations and bureaucratic tape and help get other teachers and community members involved. The key is fostering a forum for youth to create change; adults should nurture not lead.
Once you have decided who the faculty liaison will be, students should:
Call a meeting. Many times groups will get together for a first meeting and find themselves staring into each other's faces with nothing to talk about. The first meeting should be very casual and consist of planning among founding members. This type of meeting will precede the first general meeting, to which you will invite anyone who wants to attend and get involved.
Think of ways to expand the group. How can you creatively launch the new group to the rest of the school?
Plan to make the initial meetings something more than a mundane after-school event. Plan a mixer with refreshments, music and films. Make it interesting.
Plan activities to help people get to know one another. Start to think of ideas for breaking the ice at this meeting. Remember, if people don't have fun and feel comfortable, they will not come to the next meeting. What will you talk about at the first open meeting?
Think simple. Provide a clear impression of what types of issues the group plans to address. Keep things light.
Plan a game that gets everyone acquainted; introduce yourselves to each other and share why you felt it was important to get involved.
Set goals for the group. Once your group is rolling and has a few core participants attending its meetings, the group should set goals.
These goals should tackle everything from funding to attracting new members. Be creative and realistic. Additionally, your group should look at ways to use its influence as a school-sanctioned entity.
Think about sponsoring events and speakers. Identify key issues not only in your school, but also in your community. Think outside the norm.
If you set a goal to have a great speaker come to talk to the whole school about an issue like race, history, gender or culture, ask the person to address interested members of the community that evening, too. Use the school or a local events center to host the event.
Try to include self-education into your group's meetings. Strive to keep learning about new issues.
Schedule events that are fun. Plan events that entice people to come, not because they are necessarily interested in the cause, but because the event sounds fun.
Consider events like concerts, dances and presentations. Imagine an after-school event in which the local high school punk band plays with the local hip-hop act, and that local DJ kid hosts the whole thing. That would be cool, right?
Introduce the groups' goals and ideas at the event. Use informational tables and flyers or an art display created by students and inspired by recent events, a historic event or even a single word—“bigot,” for example.
Remember that we, as people interested in activism and justice, can forget that not everyone is as assertive with their ideas. Many people who are "on our side," or could be on our side, may be uncomfortable about activism or standing up for a cause.
Be creative, understanding and gentle in your approach, and be sure to include celebration and socialization as part of the group's activism and organizing.
Changing the world isn't just about changing people's ideas about race, prejudice and gender. It is about changing the way we approach the problems and how we educate ourselves and others in those regards.
*Adapted from “Starting an Activist Club at School”
It’s Your World—If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers by Mikki Halpin (Simon Pulse, 2004)
The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change by Barbara A. Lewis (Free Spirit Publishing, 2007)
Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World by Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger (Fireside, 2008)
Amnesty International USA
Kids vs. Global Warming
Students Today Leaders Forever
Taking It Global