Teaching students to be pro-active citizens
By Judianne Jayme
Let me be the first to admit that I’m guilty of SLACKtivism. SLACKtivism is a term I first heard at a professional division regarding Free the Children’s WE Act program and curriculum, the same organization that hosts the global celebration WE Day. SLACKtivism is liking a video we see about an issue we’ll hear about once. It is signing a petition and patting ourselves on the back for that five-minute action. It is sharing a post on social media with family and friends. It is donating money to a cause, and forgetting about it a month later.
Don’t get me wrong. These activities help raise awareness, which truly does makes a difference for the organization, charity, or fundraisers involved. Social media networks have made sharing information even easier than it had in the past. The big concern I have, however, is the disconnect it creates, when people assume that simply “liking” or “sharing” information means they have done all they can. There is a decreasing amount of change-makers who are planning, organizing, and doing something to create the change they want to see.
Particularly for this upcoming generation of digital natives who live comfortably in online social media, the push to create activism is becoming a greater need. We need to encourage youth to take part in local and global initiatives, to create not only a plan, but a plan of action towards their goals. It is not enough to just create awareness – although it is a strong launching point – you have to get moving.
The school I work at has a staff that is passionate about doing. We are a hands-on team that works hand-in-hand toward our goals. Our students have inadvertently absorbed this attitude – the choice to work together. I, alongside two colleagues, are the teacher supervisors for our Empowerment Group, comprised of 32 sixth graders who made the choice to plan and make a change in both local and global initiatives. Together, we had raised $600 last year toward our causes, and this year, have already surpassed that amount by several hundred!
How do we do it? Re-read the title of this column. We empower them through education.
We have the tough discussions about issues we notice in our community, city, country, and world. We teach them about the benefits, but also the dangers, of SLACKtivism. Then, instead of just talking about it, we begin our research. We brainstorm activities that we feel our school would support, and we turn that into action, which leads to positive changes.
I recently took the students to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, on a tour called Be an Upstander, and when having discussions with our tour guides, I could hear these students’ voices carrying over ideas that go beyond their years. When asked what they would do when they come across an issue they are passionate about, one student replied, “I would begin the chain. I would find other people who also believe in the cause, and we could find ways to share it with others, especially those who have even more powerful voices than us.”
On the bus ride back to school, I asked two students what they valued most from today’s experience. One replied, “I learned that even a small change can lead to a much bigger change.” The other replied, “I learned that you don’t have to wait to be an adult to make a real difference, as long as you do something about it and don’t give up.”
I will remind you that it is a sixth grader who said that sentence above.
Parent tip: Be the change!
Children place value where we place value. Encourage your child to be a change-maker – to not only spread awareness, but to take it a step further and have actions toward making a difference. Provide them options of who to talk to, where to go, who to ask in order to strengthen their participation toward their cause.
We often, as adults, underestimate the fact that when students feel passionate about something, they will see it through when they have support from a caring and safe adult. Empower your child with encouragement. Ask them questions. Lead by example.
I will end this article with a quotation that hits home for my students, and the tens of thousands of others who are inspired by the WE Act program from Free the Children.
“Be the change you want to see in this world.” – Gandhi
Judianne Jayme is a third year educator teaching sixth grade in the Winnipeg School Division.