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Teaching Social Justice

Updated on August 23, 2013
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Social Justice

"the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society"

~www.dictionary.com (retrieved 2/6/12)

Often social justice is limited to the study of one person, movement or people. Too often children are exposed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or a few Black inventors during February as their full social justice curriculum. According to John Dewey, also known as the father of modern education, the major aim of education is socialization of students into a democratic society. As such, it is vital that students be introduced to issues of social justice. But just how does a teacher do that in the face of high stakes testing where social justice gets pushed to the side? How can a parent bring up these meaningful conversations? Books, songs, websites and videos can be a wonderful resource. These tools can be intergraded into many different studies. Studying Japan? A read aloud on Japanese internment camps could be quite appropriate. Studying historical fiction? “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” would be a well written choice that brings into question issues of fairness in the Jim Crow south.

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How to Use Social Justice Resources

The idea of this collection is for immediate or future use for any teacher or parent wanting to educate children on issues of social justice in American history. These resources can be used individually or as part of a unit or study. Feel free to share this collection with other teachers or parents wanting to start related conversations with their students or children.

Native American History

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Books about Native American History for Kids

Only the Names Remain by Alex Bealer-This descriptive chapter book chronicles the struggles of the Cherokee Indians during the Trail of Tears. Between 1837 and 1838 they were exiled from their homes in Georgia and relocated to Arkansas. The author brings to life the challenges the people faced including the rigid cold and hunger. A great read aloud second graders and an independent or literature circle option for grades 3 and above.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith-This is a sweet contemporary picture book about a Muscogee girl preparing a traditional dance for her community. This offers a rare look into the present-day lives of Native American children as their families seek to pass down traditions. This would be appropriate for children 4 years-old and older.

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Native American Songs

Native American culture is full of wonderful chants, rhythms and dances. These CDs are sure to bring the life, music and culture of Native Americans to life. Children can enjoy this during work period, around the house or even during dramatic play sessions.

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Video about Native Americans

Slavery in the United States

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Children's Books about Slavery

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine-This is a delightful picture book with artwork by Kadir Nelson. The book tells the story of a named Henry that realizes he does not know his birthday. As he grows up and encounters heartbreaks such as having his family sold off, he dreams of the ultimate birthday: a day of freedom. This true story involves Henry mailing himself to freedom.

American Girl: Meet Addy (and others) by Connie Porter-I would have never guessed that the American Girl Brand would write such a beautiful and touching series! The story of Addy Walker was brought in to a Kindergarten class by a student when I was an assistant teacher. I wondered if the teacher dare read it and if so, how the students would receive it. To my surprise the students listened intently and even sought out other books in the series. The completely fell in love with the character Addy! As a read aloud, the entire series is captivating and raises all kinds of questions for children. I found this series provided good background knowledge for the Civil Rights Movement which is usually discussed in most classes during Dr. King’s birthday.

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Songs from Slavery

"Hambone"-Hambone is a rhyme, song and a game. Many versions are available online and in books.

"Wade in the Water"-This is one of the best known Negro spirituals that survived slavery. The song itself was suspected of being used during the Underground Railroad. Many versions of this song can be easily located online or in stores. Ella Jenkins, a children’s folk singer, has a beautiful version.

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Video about Slavery

Japanese Internment Camps

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Books on Internment Camp Experiences

Children's Books about Internment Camps

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki-This poignant story is about a boy and his father building a baseball diamond in their internment camp. Through baseball they are able to bring together the frightened and fragmented community. With both serious and light moments, this story functions well as a read aloud for children in grades first through third.

The Invisible Thread: An Autobiography by Yoshiko Uchido-A personal account of a young Japanese American girl growing up in California during WWII. As she experiences the fear, shame and anger of being relocated to an internment camp, students are sure to get a glimpse of this period of history. Yoshiko grows up to be an author of many books and this was her personal journal. What a treasure!

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Japenese Songs

Songs from this period have not been chronicled on CD or book. It does seem to have an oral history that I hope will be recorded soon. I was excited to find a song entitled “Kenji” has been written and performed to honor those Americans displaced in internment camps.

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Video about Japanese American History

Cesar Chavez and The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Also know as the Chicano Movement)

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Childrens Books about Mexican American History

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull- This well-illustrated picture book depicts the life and times of Cesar Chavez. From his childhood full of teasing and hard work to his triumphant leadership of the Migrant Workers Union, this book gives a full picture of a true hero. This is an appropriate read aloud for first graders and an independent or literature circle read for older children.

Rosa Takes a Chance: Mexican Immigrants in the Dust Bowl Years by Susan Martins Miller- This is a wonderful chapter book about migrant workers during the mid-1930s. Written from the point of view Rosa, a young girl, children will sympathize and root for this young heroine. This would be a read aloud for second and third graders or an independent or literature circle read for older children.

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Mexican American Songs

The Chicano movement was full of folk music. I was delighted to find some of this music compiled on CDs. Rich with instrumentation as well as beautiful voices, this music is sure to bring to life the experiences of Mexican Americans.

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Video about the Chicano Movement

Civil Rights Movement

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Children's Books about the Civil Rights Movement

A Dream of Freedom by Diane Wharton- How often do children get a taste of Pultizer Prize-winning authors? Diane Wharton takes kids on a journey through the Civil Rights Movement using photography and narration. She focuses on major events between 1954 and 1968 including Brown versus the Board of Education and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Whether used as a read aloud for second or third graders or an independent read for older students, this book is sure to be an excellent resource for any classroom or home.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis-I fell in love with this novel while reading it aloud to a third grade class. This is the story of Kenny, a 9-year old boy, and his eventful road trip to Birmingham in 1963. Issues of race and fairness become real and compelling as students feel connected to both Kenny and his family. This would be a strong read aloud for third or fourth grade class or an independent or literature circle read for older students.

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Songs from the Civil Rights Movement

“If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus”-This was sung during Civil Rights protests and has become a classic. Pete Seeger released an album entitled “Peete Seeger for Kids and Just Plain Folks” with an upbeat version of this song. I was delighted to discover this song has been passed down as community songs in some progressive schools.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”-The Black national anthem has a history that predates the Civil Rights Movement. Many renditions of this song can be found. Studying the lyrics in verse is a great way to show children the motives and ideas embodied in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Video about the Civil Rights Movement

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    • profile image

      Danee 5 years ago

      Excellent post

    • profile image

      Danee 5 years ago

      Timely information. In my FB post just the other day I wrote, "Pondering the discussion Ola and I had while coloring a picture of Fredrick Doulglas last night...wondering about the significance of Black History Month to a 3 year old who colored him with a black crayon because I said '...he was a black man...' we live black and proud DAILY reinforced by beautiful images and behaviors that she can identify with and mimic. I don't want to disrupt this delicate innocence and revere with unnecessary conjecture and pretense. Letting a 'kid can be a kid' , the world will have its influence soon enough."

      Lessons need to be developmentally appropriate and in my humble opinion, focused on lessons in humanity and character building. What is the value if she is not enriched as a critical thinker and conscious human?

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Danee, I totally understand the issue of when is the right time to talk to kids about issues of race and history. I think how we live speak volumes to our children. It becomes clear to them what we value. The fact that you even had the book sends a message that sweet Ola will understand when she is ready.

      Kids seem to develop their own questions and curiosities as they grow and as adults, it's our job to be honest.

      Developmental appropriateness is very important. Thankfully, lessons of humanity and character speaks to all children. As they grow, we can guide their critical thinking and growing social consious by providing good materials, as I have listed, and plenty of conversations. Kids need to talk about the new things they are seeing, learning and hearing.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Krystal, I am really surprised this hasn't received more attention. I have voted up and shared, as this has a wealth of information. While kids will progress at their own rate and will one day be introduced to the world, it is our job as parents to educate them correctly and ensure they understand tolerance. Despite my Christian beliefs (and yes, I mean despite since the majority of Christians seem ignorant these days to what LOVE truly is), I teach my daughter about same sex families, multigenerational families, and single parent families. She has to understand these are realities in today's society and be tolerant of all types of families. Also, she is half Mexican and so we celebrate the Mexican holidays as well as American holidays. I do my best to ensure during the holiday season she learns about all types of celebrations. This will allow her to be aware and appreciate diversity and inclusion. I do not want my children raised in a bucket and did not do so with my teenager, who loves everyone from various cultures, lifestyles, and backgrounds. Thank you for sharing some great reads.

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you so much EyesStraightAhead! This hub means so much to me as an educator. It really represents some of my core values. Thank you for reading and commenting. I really appreciate you taking the time to look over my hub.

      I recommend every book here from experience. They are all excellent reads. I hope that where ever this hub may travel, it helps parents and teachers teach children about those people that have be disenfranchised in American history. If they do not understand our history, I fear for our future.

      I look back and realize I only got a pinch of this information K-12! It was not until college that I found out in more detail about the atrocities of our history. This is one reason I am so passionate about teaching children.

      My students and I (1st/2nd grade) are currently reading a chapter book about Dr. King. They are so shocked to hear that anyone would treat people in the ways that Blacks were during the Civil Rights movement. I appreciate that response. Their natural empathy is something we can all learn from but indeed must cultivate.

      In our culture of "me first" and "I am right" it is so important that we raise children to care for others. Through teaching social justice we can work to achieve this goal.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Krystal, I believe we do a disservice to our children when we don't teach them about the past. Anyone who thinks racism is gone is blind or lucky to live in a great community. There is racism, reverse racism, and inequality all around us. To teach our children what others have had to do to even have a chance at the same rights and freedoms as others is to give them an understanding of the fight they will have to undertake one day in their own lives. I do not believe any age is too young and this is seen in our magnet schools who teach English/Spanish from Kindergarten on. I am thankful for teachers like you who believe in this as it makes for a better system. Currently I homeschool my little one because our school systems are horrible and do little to educate our children well. Instead they teach to the child in danger of being left behind while all others become dumbed down. It is quite sad. I will get off that soapbox though and just say if I had teachers like you in my area, I would be thrilled to put my child in public school when the time comes.

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks EyesStraightAhead, I completely agree with the traces of racism that remain. That is one reason I think it is vital to give straight forward history. This gives children a context for inequalities they will start to see later.

      Public schools definitely have many troubles these days. Teachers do the best they can to teach what they must and try to teach what they feel they should as well. It is a delicate and complicated balance. I myself am teaching in a private community school that focuses on democracy and social justice as part of its philosophy.

      It took me time to reconcile teaching in private versus public but I have done this because I have finally found a place that I can be myself and teach what I feel matters. It helps that the school is diverse in staff and student body.

      I pray that when the time comes for you to take your children to school that the right place will appear. I do feel that what you do at home will always be a good supplement to whatever they are being taught.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your point of view and life with me :)

    • freemarketingnow profile image

      freemarketingnow 5 years ago from California

      This is great! I taught in Inglewood at a charter school. I'm almost to my 10th year of teaching now. I think tolerance and social justice can, like you mention, be taught through film and books. I've written a book about how to do it through film. For other important lesson learned, you can visit my hubs or my webpage at http://www.lulu.com/alastingwill.

    • KrystalD profile image
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      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks for sharing freemarketingnow! Keep fighting the good fight for all children and the future of our world. Children need awareness so that as they grow older, they have an honest prospective of our country. I also believe that reading books and films encourages students that think and question. In a democracy all should be utilizing such critical thinking. I will be reading your hub :) Thanks.

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