Can We School Our Children in Human Rights in School?
For those of us who participated in the Women’s Marches on January 20th of this year, we experienced not only a testament to the endurance of the movement, but an interesting display of burgeoning activism on the part of the younger set. From toddlers hoisted on to mom or dad’s shoulders to those old enough to hoof it on their own and even lead the crowd in chants, kids played an active part in marches across the country, and worldwide.
The passion displayed by those kids old enough to be aware of the issues was inspiring. It demonstrates, once again, the following characteristics of truly engaging learning:
Argumentation and consensus building
Whether it’s women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, civil rights, environmental rights, our kids are living in a time of heightened awareness of the issues that many of their parents have been fighting for over the years. Media exposure through the standard social media and news outlets or firsthand experience through a family member or friend has brought newfound intimacy with not only the issues but the social activism accompanying them.
And social activism requires not only self-direction on the part of those who choose to participate, but also consensus building and cooperation among those who work together to build the movement.
Can we foster this type of growth in a classroom?
The type of growth, aka learning, required to build a movement necessitates a certain amount of . . . messiness. We need to allow for different perspectives and to shift direction when one approach is not working out.
If we leave it all up to the numbers, and the scores on a standardized test, there’s a lot that’s going to be left out.
But it’s not all about building an entire movement.
Let’s learn something from the engagement we’ve seen at the second Women’s March to better understand what motivated these kids to get involved. Let’s see how long their involvement lasts. How do they stay connected?
It would be a valuable lesson for all of us.
What about skills?
Some of you may already see where this is headed. If we start with a meaningful context, or problem set, then we are more likely to be able to develop the necessary skills around that.
When kids are passionate about a particular cause or problem, they are that much more likely to want to read about it, to work out the math or chemistry around it, in order to find the solution. And they will perform better when allowed to do so over an extended period of time, where they can make mistakes, recover from them, and keep working on the problem.
Studying skills in a vacuum to be regurgitated on the now electronic equivalent of the bubble sheet just doesn’t make sense anymore.
Project-based learning, then, seems a more likely alternative in terms of developing skills within a more meaningful context.
Do we need a revolution to find the right fix for learning?
While the current wave of social activism has revealed an enthusiasm amongst our youth that may transfer to more appropriate teaching and learning strategies, it’s not teaching us anything we haven’t really known for a long time.
For meaningful learning to take place, we do need to shake things up. Not only do we need to reconsider the very concept of school and everyday learning, but it’s vital for us to reconsider how to imbue future generations the sense of humanity that has emerged for some and is lost for many others.
From an educational perspective, we need more:
Project-based learning based on themes generated by the kids themselves
Less classroom time
More time in communities of professionals sharing their expertise
Groups of learners of mixed ages
More global learning exchanges facilitated by technology
The simple truth is that we are neither instilling a love of learning nor teaching kids to think for themselves in the current scenario. Skills built around self-directed learning and cooperative working situations will serve them much better as we head into a less-than-certain future.
A quote attributed to Audrey Hepburn, whose own fate as a young girl in Nazi-occupied Holland inspired a lifetime of service, reads:
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands—one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.
One thing we should also have learned from the recent surge of activism is this: Just as we have incorporated the concept of #AlwaysLearning into our lives, we should also be striving toward #HumanRightsEveryDay. There need not be such a strict division between "learning" and one's daily life. The same goes for social impact. This is something I have learned from our children this past month.