Friday, August 21, 2020

A Small Social Justice Study


This summer, I think that a lot of us felt the need to start getting a lot more informed about social justice issues. The kids clearly felt this need, too, and we had a lot of great conversations... which led to a lot of great questions...

...which I did not feel equipped to answer. 

I did what I generally do, then, when asked a question I do not know the answer to--I suggested that we look it up!

Rather, I suggested that we rewrite two of the Girl Scout badges at the kids' levels--the Cadette Finding Common Ground badge and the Senior Social Innovator badge--to encompass a short study on social justice, during which we could research the answers to our most pressing questions and find out more about the issues that we felt most called to.

There are so many--too many!--social justice issues to be able to give them all our careful attention during one short study, so we decided that we'd focus on just Black Lives Matter and the LGBTIA+ pride movement for the moment. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has a LOT of helpful information for thinking and talking about racial identity, bias, our country's history of racism, and how to be activity anti-racist. The kids and I went through a couple of their topics together, and then we each explored the rest of the topics separately and came together for conversation about them.

We spent another interesting afternoon working on a giant puzzle and listening to interviews of people who represent important moments in LGBTQIA+ history. Or rather, the kids got to work on our puzzle, while I stayed at the laptop and ready-referenced the questions that they continually peppered me with. AIDS activism in the early 1980s and the Stonewall Riots are the only historical events that I feel confident lecturing off-the-cuff about to the kids, so thank goodness for Wikipedia!

If you're interested in the history of the AIDS epidemic (it has a lot of modern parallels!), I highly recommend this book:

It's intense, and so, so, so sad, but it's also a vivid example of the extreme amount of social activism that's required to achieve even a starting point of social justice. AIDS activists sacrificed their careers, their reputations, and sometimes their lives just to get to a point where our government could begin to consider that perhaps we should not deliberately let entire swathes of people succumb to a pandemic.

On another afternoon, we popped popcorn and watched this documentary on the Stonewall riots:

It's a good example of how yes, you DO sometimes have to commit civil disobedience to right a social wrong that's been legislated into existence.

Here's another good example:

There IS a Book Three, but we're still on hold for it at the library!

John Lewis' story is epic. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew nothing about the Freedom Riders until I read his story. I'm sure my school system failed me in not teaching this, and then I failed myself by still not learning it after I was grown up and supposed to teach myself everything I'd missed out on learning as a kid. 

As another project on another day, the kids looked up book lists featuring POC and LGBTQIA+ people. There are several book lists referenced in this article about things white people can do to advance racial justice. There are a ton more great books in this list of children's and middle-grade LGBTQIA+ literature. The kids requested all the ones that looked interesting to them from our public library, and if there were any that the library didn't already own, they were to fill out a Suggest a Purchase form for it. Our library is awesome, and I think that Will only managed to find one book on all of these lists that the library didn't own! We got a bunch of new stuff to read for ourselves, though--I was especially excited to see that Jazz, whose picture book I always recommend to people as THE way to explain what it means to be transgender to anyone young or old, has a memoir now!

The Cadette Finding Common Ground badge wanted Syd to explore civil debate. Watching protest march footage certainly covers that, but at that point in the summer I didn't want to actually take the kids to anything in-person, but I did want to find something that showed how anyone can agitate for social justice, so we also spent another afternoon working on our paint-by-numbers and listening to protest poetry and protest songs. Here's an extensive list of protest poetry--shout-out to Paul Laurence Dunbar, who we previously met while learning about flying machines!

The kids sat with all of the research that we'd done for a few days, then came together to create a list entitled "How to be an Ally." Here's part of it:

They did pretty well, although their list shows that I didn't do enough to help them feel empowered and able to take direct action, perhaps, as much of the list is more about amplifying the message or showing support for the message, etc. Or maybe that's a product of this pandemic, when I don't feel comfortable encouraging the kids to attend protests or physically volunteer their time, so then they don't think of those options. But ultimately, their list is do-able and kid-friendly, and they each chose an item from it to do right then:

Syd intends to make digital copies of her hand-drawn pinback buttons (in the top photo), so that anyone with a 1" pinback button maker can download them and make them, too, but then high school started, and her algebra and biology teachers are definitely making up for the lack of work that her French and art teachers are giving her. So pinback button designs might have to wait until she learns everything there is to learn about algebra and biology first...

In other news, Will's teen police club, run by our local law enforcement officers, had a meeting (in the brief window when our community was starting to get back to doing stuff like that, before they stopped again) specifically to discuss Black Lives Matter and the instances of police brutality that have been so much in the news. Will came prepared (because I'd given her a list of these instances and required her to research them, summarize them, and then write her opinions), and although overall the discussion wasn't the absolute greatest, it wasn't terribly awful, either. I don't think that the officers who volunteer their time to work with the community's children are bad-hearted, but I don't think that they're exactly the wokest, either. And at one point, when an officer was discussing our farmer's market controversy and told the children that there was no proof that the Schooner Creek farm was run by Nazis, Will spoke right up and told everyone there that our family knows them and they're definitely Nazis.

Technically, I think they're actually "white identitarians" who refuse to admit that they're racist and instead insist that they just want to evict all POC from this entire country that was originally stolen from its indigenous people, but whatever. Everyone knew what she meant.

And I guess if I was looking for direct action towards social justice, then stepping up to contradict a police officer and tell a group of your peers a bit about your own experience with racism is pretty direct!

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