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Educational Activism
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Marian Shehata and David Ast

Title:  From Apathy to Activism: The Makings of a Social Justice Club

Session presenters: Marian Shehata (TDSB) David Ast (TDSB), STATIS students

Organization: TDSB

Contact information: marianshehata_2000@yahoo.ca

Brief Description of workshop:

We begin by examining the continuum of activism actions that students and teachers can take.  We also explore ways of starting and maintaining a social justice club at a secondary school.  Through the use of case studies, we explore challenges one may encounter as a teacher activist and brainstorm practical strategies to address them.  The students of STATIS, Students Taking Action Together in Society, give an overview of an action campaign they have undertaken and answer any questions from the workshop participants.

Workshop goals:

To provide workshop participants with:

  • A knowledge of what activism is and its various forms;
  • Models, philosophies and strategies for starting a student social justice club;
  • Strategies to overcome barriers for doing social justice work in secondary schools;
  • A knowledge of helpful resources for social justice activism;
  • To enable students to have a voice and speak about their own experiences as activists.

Strategies used:

  • Continuum of activism activity adapted from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice;
  • Discussing a tip sheet with many concrete examples and tips for starting a social justice club;
  • Students from STATIS present the process and philosophy they use to plan and execute a campaign followed by Q & A;
  • Workshop participants break out into groups where they analyze case studies created from authentic experiences of teachers.  They brainstorm strategies to commonly faced challenges faced when starting a student social justice club.

Two key resources that support our work:

Lee, Enid, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. (2006). Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.  Washington DC: Teaching for Change.  A resource for grades K-12 and staff development full of lesson plans, challenging readings and school wide projects for equity work. Strong focus on race but makes connections to other ‘isms’.

Adams, Maurianne, Lee Anne Bell, Pat Griffin. (1997). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice:  A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.  A resource full of lesson plans on various “isms”; mainly designed for a university audience but can be adapted for grades 7-12.

Issues which we continue to struggle with in our own pursuits of educational activist goals:

  • How to hook and engage students that are not academically inclined;
  • Lack of timeà  we especially want to mentor potential STATIS clubs in elementary schools but are finding it difficult to do because of a lack of time;
  • Not being seen by other staff members or groups as a school wide leadership group and therefore not being invited to school wide leadership events.

Next steps (E.g., Supports [theoretical or practical] that may enhance our ongoing or future practice):

  • Access the resource of time—supply teacher coverage so that the students and teachers at various schools can meet to plan and implement projects catered to the students’ interests and needs;
  • Conferences where students can be exposed to new ideas and manageable projects in the morning but embedded time in the afternoon to consider ways of implementing similar ideas in the afternoon of the workshop OR embedded time the day after the conference to plan and implement;
  • Time for teachers with common interests to look at NGO materials together and consider how to implement them into our curriculum so that we can springboard into action projects outside of the classroom.

“Big ideas” that we want people to walk away with:

  • Youth can make a powerful difference in our society.  There are a multitude of resources and supports out there that can assist activist teachers in their work of helping students realizing this message.
  • Small actions and events can make a big difference.  Not all projects have to be grand and time consuming to be impactful and effective.
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