Today I had the privilege of attending the We Day Saskatchewan kick off announcement. Saskatchewan will have it’s very first We Day on February 27th, 2013, in Saskatoon! We Day kicks off a year long adventure that promotes and supports student activism through educational partnerships, curricular resources, a social media community and a plethora of other good things. Students have the opportunity to earn tickets to the We Day event by participating in one local and one global social justice event or activity. The aim of We Day is to help create global citizens. The day includes rock stars like Hedley and Justin Bieber and speakers as diverse as Jane Goodall, The Dalai Lama, and Elie Wiesel. Imagine having your students listen to any of these speakers — the passion, awareness and empathy it would create.
Afterwards, the leaders of three school divisions in our province met with the staff of Free the Children, including Craig Kielburger to find out more specifics about We Day and how it works. One of the leaders stated, “This is going to be a hard sell.” And then proceeded to list the numerous reasons why. None of them good.
The thought that popped into my head was, “What?” And I was faced with the terrible choice that I often am. Am I quiet? Or am I honest? I chose honest. I said, “This isn’t going to be a hard sell. Kids are going to grab hold of this and run, and we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to keep up.” Then I told them the story of when my students raised almost $23,000 in about 45 days.
That’s what students do when they’re passionate about something. They make it happen. They make a difference. They change the world. It’s also the reason why I love working with teenagers. Adults often believe that kids are apathetic. And in some ways they are. But I think it’s because we’ve relegated them to the role of consumers of garbage media and cheap merchandise, instead of providing them with life-giving and authentic roles that matter. We need to change that. We need to focus on what really matters.
Is it our kids discovering what they’re passionate about? That their life matters now? That they really can make a difference, even if they are only 12 years old? And if it is, then we need to do what’s necessary to support that. This is who this generation is. To be honest, I could care less if my students can balance a chemical equation, if they have no idea about what is going on in the world or feel no responsibility to help others who are in need.
Maybe we need to re-imagine what instruction and assessment look like. Maybe instruction can have the energy of a rock concert. Maybe some of our ideas about teaching and learning are outdated. Two students involved with our campaign to raise money for schools spoke in front of hundreds of people to raise money and awareness. If someone captured it on video, would it not be a better way to assess a student’s speaking skills than a classroom audience of 20?
I’ve found the reason most students aren’t activists is because they don’t know. And so in my classes, I begin to teach them. Not by yapping at them with a bunch of statistics. I show them. My students have learned about the issues that water shortages cause in Blue Gold and the slavery often involved in procuring coffee. We look at the injustice involved in most of the blue jeans my students are wearing and the human rights issues that have ensnared Walmart — who’s really paying the price for those low prices? Leonardo DiCaprios The 11th Hour looks at the causes of global warming and the solutions that might change our trajectory. However, the most powerful video I’ve ever seen is Not My Life. A shocking and honest look at the problem of modern human trafficking.
As a class, we watch four or five of these videos. By about the third video, my students usually half jokingly say, “So what are you going to ruin for us today?” Then I know it’s starting to sink in. The world isn’t quite how they thought it was. Then I have them find the justice issue that matters to them. Sometimes it takes a bit, but they’ve always found something to care about. And that’s the difference between activism and slacktivism. When you care about something you don’t just press the Facebook like button, you do something to change things.
I’ve never done a big, “Let’s change the world” speech. Instead, I’ve simply said to them, “We all have to be here for an hour. So what do you say we do something that matters. Something that changes the world.” I’ve never had a student say no. And that’s what really matters.