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Educational Activism
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Dong Ling Chen

Grade 12 student
TDSB

“There are those who just simply do what’s required, and others who go beyond what is expected and leave a mark.”  I think teacher activism can be thought of in the same way.  There are some teachers who believe that treating their students equally, and telling them to treat each other equally because it is the right thing to do, is enough to eradicate the inequities of the world.  However, that to me is not even taking a first step in the long journey to achieve social justice in our education system.  True teacher activism in my opinion, encompasses so much more than getting students to treat each other equally.  It includes educating them about the different social issues that affect them, and other children like them all around the world.  It includes teaching them how to be pro-active about these various issues and making them believe and see that no matter how old or big they are, they can still make an impact or difference in someone else’s life.  And more importantly, it includes guiding your students along the way, and being a role model to support to them, because when you let your students know you’re there, it can make the impossible tasks seem possible.

You could say that I have been extremely lucky because I have already encountered several experiences of social justice activism in my life -- however only one of them truly stands out.  When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I had a teacher who cared a lot about social justice and it really showed in her teaching.  She found ways to incorporate this in the curriculum through things like weekly journal topics or class discussions. Every week, she would introduce us to a different social issue like homophobia, sexism or euthanasia.  We would first explore the issue and learn the facts about it.  We then got to reflect and think about the issues before expressing our views and opinions on it through profound journal entries, vigorous class talks, and hard thought-out projects.  Through her efforts, not only did all of her students learned so much about the different social issues in our world, but we also got to experience first hand what it is like to be activist ourselves.  We were given opportunities to educate other students in our school about the social issues we learned about through things like assemblies, presentations and campaigns.  We even organized many projects like food drives, letter writing campaigns and fundraisers in our community to help raise awareness and money for different issues.  In addition, we created a social justice club called “Kids Can Make a Difference” club, and our club did just that.  We showed our school, our community and ourselves that kids, when given the chance, could make a huge difference.  I am now in high school as a grade 11 student.  I can still say, although it is not as apparent, social justice education still appears in some my classes.  These classes include law, civics and introduction in anthropology, sociology and psychology.  In these classes, we get to again explore difference social issues, express our views on them, and even learn the things we can do to be pro-active about them.  I am now currently the President of R.A.D. (Riverdale Against Discrimination), a social justice club at my school.  It is an organization where students and teachers come together and address the different social issues in our school.  This is done by raising awareness and organizing different campaigns and events for the whole school that encourage all staff and student involvement.  R.A.D. is responsible for organizing events such as the White Ribbon Campaign and Cultural Diversity Day.  I can say one of the best things I have done in high school was deciding to join R.A.D. in grade 9 because it taught me so much about others and myself.  R.A.D. has done so many things and has had a huge impact at my school in its short ten-year history.  In my opinion, every school needs to have a social justice club like R.A.D. where students and teachers work together for a better school and community.

I believe so much is gained from teachers being activists, but even more is lost when they are not.  I know before my experiences in grade seven, I couldn’t have cared less about the issues going on in our world.  But being in the class of a teacher who was so passionate about teaching and helping others, I couldn’t help but have some of that positive energy rub off on me.  It is like walking into a cafeteria wearing fresh white clothes during a food fight, and expecting not to get dirty.  If you look back to the beginning of my speech when I first defined teacher activism, you will see that my personal definition of teacher activism came directly from the actions of my grade seven teacher.  That is because her actions alone have had so much influence on my life.  I can honestly say that without her, I would not be who I am today, much less be standing up here right now and talking to you all about teacher activism and social justice.  You can say she opened my eyes to really see the world around me—to see the social problems and inequities, to learn about the different issues and to be pro-active about them.  She was a teacher that inspired and encouraged her students to get out there and stand up for what they believed in and she was not afraid of putting herself on the line for her students.  When teachers are not activists themselves, there is not a high chance that their students will be either.  The result: we will have generation after generation where change and social justice is minimal. This is because in order for real change to happen, you need individuals who are knowledgeable and passionate about making a difference and who are willing to pass on their experience and knowledge to others to do the same.  It is only when you have everyone working together, both inexperienced and experienced, that we can strive towards a future place where everyone is perceived as truly equal.

So in conclusion, I encourage you all who are teachers-to-be, as well as those individuals who will be helping to shape the lives of people in the future, to think strongly about teacher activism.  […] Be a person who is willing to step up to the challenge of being a teacher activist who educates their students about different social issues, one who helps them to be pro-active.  Act like a steering wheel and shoulder to lean on, because you’ll be truly amazed how some actions, no matter how small, can still go along way.  Whether you only get through to one student, or a whole class full, we will become one-step closer to changing the world. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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