Last week we hit the October wall. I’d never actually heard of that term until someone mentioned it in the comments section of my last post; once I read that, everything made sense. Essentially, the October wall is when students become so overwhelmed with their inquiry projects they lose motivation. My students were unmotivated and off-task, alot. So I shut it down, and it stayed like that for a few days. I honestly didn’t know what else to do. But it didn’t feel right.
Today I read the following quote:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Over the past few days, I’ve stared fear in the face. I’ve questioned to depth of my soul why I teach, and everything I know about teaching. In the end, I knew what we needed to do.
I was stuck. Or more accurately, we were stuck. Once you shift to an inquiry classroom, you’re in this together, whether it works or not. Without addressing what had happened, we couldn’t move forward. Nor could we simply move onto something else and ignore why things fell apart. And going back to how we used to do school was unimaginable. Instead, we needed to sit down and discuss what happened.
I asked my students why they thought things fell apart. At first there was silence. Finally, one of my students suggested that they had so many ideas they wanted to pursue, it became overwhelming. Another student suggested that we didn’t have a clear goal. When we raised money for Invisible Children last year, we knew exactly what our goal was and when it needed to be completed. Many students nodded their heads in agreement. Throughout this conversation, I let my students take control & responsibility for fixing the problem.
Finally, one of my students asked, “Are we going to continue working on this?” This was the crucial question. My students were sad & disappointed that we had stopped. The truth is, so was I. This is the first time I can think of that both my students and I have been heartbroken that school wasn’t working well. We all believed in the importance of what we were doing.
Okay. What should our goal be? Students still wanted to complete the Common Craft type videos we started working on. Maybe a certain number of views per video should be our goal? Maybe. But we can’t actually control that.
A few more ideas were suggested, and through the interplay of ideas, one student asked, “Is there an anti-trafficking/slavery day? Maybe we can start one?” I told them to Google it. There is. It’s January 11th, three months from today. After this, the plan quickly fell into place.
Our Focus? Raising awareness of human trafficking.
It’s estimated that 27 million people are slaves in our world today. Most people think that slavery disappeared when it was abolished. It wasn’t. Slavery still exists.
Some of these slaves live in Canada. Even typing this sentence is shocking to me. However, most Canadians have no idea. We tend to think we live in a human rights panacea. And this is where our story begins.
My students and I have spent several weeks learning as much as we can about slavery in Canada and beyond. Rather than learning everything I could about slavery over the summer, something I would have done previous years, and then teaching it to my students, we’re learning about this together. My students are the ones who decide what content is important to our project. My role is to model for my students how to learn.
One thing I’ve learned from past experience is not to do so much research up front. What you do with your research dictates the focus and depth required. Either way, students tend to have more information than is needed, which is not a bad thing.
Originally, we started our unit by watching Call & Response, a moving juxtaposition of music and journalism. My students loved it. A number of them downloaded the music from it onto their ipods; a development I did not expect. As well, we’ve watched parts of International Justice Mission’s video on slavery. I chose to start with videos because my students need to see the truth. Visual truth is much more powerful than me telling them a story. In a sense, people who fight injustice don’t fight for a cause necessarily because someone’s told them it’s the right thing to do, often it’s because they’ve seen and heard another person’s suffering and are moved to alleviate it.
We are also studying Patricia Mccormick’s Sold, which tells the story of a 13 year old girl, who finds herself trafficked by a relative. 45% of the people who become slaves are trafficked by someone they know. This is a poignant and powerful story. A number of my students finished it within a day or two of receiving the novel.
We are creating a social media campaign to raise awareness about slavery in Canada and other locations throughout the world. Today we established that we are creating a Facebook page, Twitter, Flickr, and Youtube accounts with the tag Slavery Still Exists, as well as a blog that numerous students will contribute to over the course of the semester. The blog will chronicle the thoughts, feelings and growth of my students, as well as house all of the media we create.
Over the next three months we hope to raise awareness around slavery, what can be done to stop it, and the worst products to buy. We hope this will culminate in classrooms and people around the world participating in anti-trafficking/slavery day with us on January 11th.
A number of my students have already created anti-slavery photos and uploaded them to their facebook pages. They are the photos in this post. When school blurs into real life, students begin to take initiative in their learning and education. They begin to identify with the victims they are learning about; it made me realize that some of the girls being trafficked could easily be my students.
It was only six years ago that trafficking a person became a crime in Canada. But very little has been done in this area. From what my students can tell, no systematic plan has been created to address trafficking in Canada. Often victims are treated like criminals because they have “immigrated” illegally and are often deported back to their home country to a life of poverty. We’ve discovered that Canada is a “destination” country for trafficking. Traffickers smuggle slaves into Canada, then over the US border because our current legislation against trafficking is, essentially, toothless.
We believe there should be a different option. In 2000, the US passed The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which is the largest piece of human-rights legislation in U.S. history. It created the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking and modern-day slavery, targeting both the domestic and international dimensions of this crime. The law has a three-pronged approach:
- Prevent vulnerability
- Protect survivors
- Prosecute human traffickers
While the law seeks to prevent trafficking overseas, and has devoted significant money to the cause, it also seeks to create a new life for those who have been trafficked. Assistance for victims of trafficking, under the law, include housing, education, health care, job training and other social service programs, to help victims rebuild their lives. A second important measure, is the establishment of the T visa, which allows victims of trafficking to become temporary residents of the U.S., with the possiblity of becoming a permanent resident after three years. The T visa signifies a shift in the immigration law policy, which previously resulted in many victims being deported as illegal aliens.
We believe it’s time for Canada to have legislation like this. Currently, Canada offers a temporary residence permit, which is granted for 180 days. Very few of these TRP’s have been granted over the past 4 years. And from what my students have found, only 5 people have been prosecuted for human trafficking, since it became illegal 6 years ago. We find it hard to believe that there have only been 5 traffickers in Canada during this time.
We hope raising awareness of this crime will move Canadians to pressure the government to create laws that actually matter and make a difference.
Beyond these initial plans, we’ve talked about lobbying our city officials to become a fair trade city. My students talked passionately about the importance of fair trade, as one of my students furiously googled all of the information for us. There are 16 fair trade cities in Canada. None in my province. That needs to change.
My students and I decided last year that we were tired of wasting our time in a school structure that was mostly rote memorization detached from anything happening in the outside world. Instead, we want the time we spend at school to matter.
What are you doing on January 11, 2012?
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing — Edmund Burke