Picture a typical 11-year-old child on a Friday.
Because it’s Friday, they are able to go get donuts with their parents on the way to school. The parents have had the doughnut Friday tradition for the last seven years and this 11-year-old looks forward to it every Friday. After picking up her chocolate glazed doughnut from Price Chopper, they arrive at Clark Middle School and are in a great mood because their first hour of the day is with their favorite teacher and favorite subject area.
Today, they get to participate in an Escape the Classroom Activity. They have been looking forward to this all week! The student is so happy because they beat the record and escaped in 22 minutes. Lunch rolls around and they finally get to Snapchat and make a TikTok with their bestie.
Finally, the 2:50 bell rings and they head home to get ready for a fun-filled weekend. When they walk in the door of their home, it is complete and utter chaos in the house. The kid asks, “what’s going on?” They’re told to sit down and eat the food that was prepared for them. The child isn’t hungry and wants to know what is going on, but everyone keeps ignoring them.
The family loads up in their SUV and joins the bumper to bumper traffic on I-70. After 12 hours of riding in silence, their father finally tells them that they have to evacuate their home, leave their school, friends, and everything they know behind. They can never talk about their previous life ever again because a new government has taken over the country. Months go by and the child experiences sickness, dehydration, and starvation.
They have to work from sunup to sundown in extreme weather conditions. Their entire family has been sent to torture or death camps. Every day, people who look like them are murdered if the government targets them.
Do you see this kid...11 years old, broken, hungry, fearful that at any second they could die? I want you to imagine that you are that 11-year-old kid.
Open your eyes
It's the 7th hour on the first day of academic focus and my students are nervous about what they will be learning this quarter. Yet as soon as they entered the room, I asked them to put their heads down and close their eyes. As I finish the story of the 11-year-old child, I say “open your eyes.”
The students in my 7th hour Societal Conflict class are experiencing a variety of emotions. Regardless of their background or ability, all of the students display a look of shock, fear, sadness, or anger. I inform the students that this class will teach them about the over 170 million people who were brutally tortured, mutilated, and killed simply because of their ethnicity, gender, nationality, or race. I tell them that this class will focus on the horror known as genocide.
I explain to students that by the end of the quarter, they will understand how important it is to be a voice for the voiceless, fight for justice of those who have been unjustified, and create meaningful relationships with people regardless of differences.
By exploring the history of genocide, students learn that if tolerated, social behaviors like prejudices, stereotypes, racism, religious hatred, ethnic hatred, and discrimination can lead to genocide. By the end of the quarter, students have completed extensive research on past and present genocides. They come to the realization that they can not only create awareness about this topic, but they can also help, regardless of the fact that they are only 11 and 12 years old.
Students create awareness propaganda in the form of posters, letters to the UN, Google slide presentations, videos, or whatever means they come up with to spread the word about social injustices around the world.
Helping students become global leaders
One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Teachers have the most important job in the world; we have the opportunity to mold the perspectives of present and future generations. Part of that molding includes teaching students to become global leaders.
Yes, math, reading, science, social studies, and the arts are important, but so is learning how to be aware of the wider world, how to respect and value diversity, how to use your voice in the face of social injustice, how to be active members of your community, and to understand your role in an ever-changing world.
It is my goal to teach kids to embrace community service on a local level, so that they can, in turn, one day act on a global level!