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Where Do We Draw the (Action) Line?

Source: Pike, G. and Selby, D. (2000). In the Global Classroom 2. Toronto: Pippin Publishing.

Time: 45 minutes

Students will clarify attitudes toward, and understand varying perspectives on, different forms of social action.

Materials: For each pair:
• a glue stick
• a marker
• a set of 12 Action Statements cut up in an envelope
• a long strip of coloured paper

Teaching/Learning Strategies
The teacher divides the class in half and asks each student to find a partner within her or his half. The pairs all receive a set of Action Statements. Those in one half of the class are asked to organize the statements along a continuum from actions they deem acceptable to those they deem unacceptable, sticking each in position on the long strip of paper. Statements do not have to be placed in a straight line or be equally spaced. Partners then decide at which point along their continuum they would draw the line between actions that are acceptable and unacceptable. If they cannot agree on the point, each can mark her or his own, drawing a line and initialing it; if consensus is reached, a double line can be drawn.

Pairs in the other half of the class organize the statements on an effective-ineffective continuum, drawing the line between actions they consider would be effective and those that would prove ineffective. Pairs that have undertaken the activity using the different criteria are then brought together to discuss, compare, and contrast the results. Conclude with a whole-class discussion.

The activity and plenary discussion will help clarify individual attitudes toward different forms of social action while at the same time alerting students to a range of conflicting viewpoints and perspectives. The action statements cover a wide spectrum of possibilities, from direct action of varying levels of risk and intensity to action that employs well-established channels of persuasion within a democratic society. A range of important issues are there to be aired in the plenary session. Which action strategies do students believe would be most effective? What is meant by “effective”? For what reasons did individuals rule out certain forms of action? Does everybody agree? If not, why? To what extent does the choice of form of action depend on the severity of the injustice of oppression being responded to? To what extent is it reasonable, upon the transparent failure of other channels of persuasion, to resort to forms of action that might be considered more extreme to halt the perceived injustice or oppression or to highlight a problem? Is direct action involving a threat to person or property ever justifiable? Is it congruent with the values that motivated the action in the first place? What would students say to the people described in the 12 statements if they were present in class?


Action Statements

Sit-Down Protest


Opponents of nuclear power mount a peaceful sit-down protest, blocking the entrance of a nuclear power station.



A group representing organizations concerned about the decline in aid to developing countries meets federal politicians to present its case.


On learning that a circus is coming to town, a network of people opposed to entertainment that involves performing animals writes letters of protest to members of municipal government and to local radio and newspapers.



Opponents of animal research break into a laboratory and release beagles intended for use in experiments.



To draw attention to a factory that is polluting a local lake, protesters undertake a hazardous climb up the factory’s tallest smokestack to hang a banner.

Personal Change


An individual contributes to environmental protection by making environmentally friendly lifestyle and purchasing decisions.



Opponents of the international arms trade paint slogans on an armaments factory and put glue in the locks.

Petition Drive


Members of anti-immigration groups combine to obtain signatures on a petition calling upon the federal government to place severe restrictions on immigration.



When a university professor questions whether sexual harassment is as common as figures suggest, students disrupt the lecture by shouting and finally walk out.

Bomb Hoax


A person opposed to abortion telephones a hoax bomb threat to an abortion clinic, causing the clinic to close for the day.


Opponents of a very oppressive regime in a foreign country mount a regular picket outside a store that sells goods from that country, distributing leaflets to people who enter the shop, engaging them in discussion about human rights denials, and requesting that they not enter.



Opponents of welfare cut stage a demonstration outside the legislature, break through the police cordon, and temporarily occupy part of the building.


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