Caren: “No justice. No peace.” This summer, millions of people – young, old and from all backgrounds — protested police brutality and systemic racism, all during an historic pandemic. Ellie Roscher and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, not far from where George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer and close to the epicenter of marches and protests. With the school year beginning, in-person or online, what is our responsibility to help children process these historic times and participate in peaceful change?
John Lewis, the late Civil Rights leader and Congressman, can guide us. On the day of his funeral, July 30, 2020, the New York Times published a letter written by Lewis before his death. In it, John Lewis challenged each generation to fulfill its moral and democratic obligations to speak out against injustice:
When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
We teach meditation to our children. We encourage kindness, empathy, compassion. We create welcoming circles, so children have a sense of belonging. All of these offer a way into peace. We also must help our children learn to “stand up, speak up, speak out,” and take action for peace.
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr, (published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is an alphabet primer of energy, vocabulary, symbolism, and actions that offers young citizens the many ways to speak out for what they believe is right. From “Assemble. Take Action.” “Create allies.” “Listen. Learn. Lead. Light a candle. Write a letter. Pass laws” to “Shake a hand. Lend a hand. Have hope. Be hope.” this colorful picture book embodies John Lewis’s message. In addition, the back matter of Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights gives us a brief history of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and a glossary of protest words with their definitions. From beginning to end, Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights provides a discussion for adults and children — yes, even young children — that speaks to John Lewis’s call to action: “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.”
After I read Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, images of young activists came to mind: Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai’s clarion call for education for girls; Sweden’s Greta Thunberg rallying the world to address climate crisis; Emma Gonzalez and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who spoke out loudly for gun control after the shooting at their school, and the videos of countless young people protesting in the streets for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Young people are our hope. Let’s teach our children, and each other, to take action for justice, peace, and our democracy.
Going Deeper: Caren and Ellie
Teaching civics is more than learning about government and history — or should be. How can we help our students become more informed, engaged young citizens? How do we, as educators, help our young people fill their toolboxes for democracy? Pyne Arts Magnet School in Lowell, Massachusetts, explores a way. From the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Scene On Radio’s producer and host John Biewen with Chenjerai Kumanyika, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, discuss the role of civics in schools and introduce the 8th graders at Pyne Arts Magnet School through Ben James’s reporting.
Listen to “S4 E10: Schooled for Democracy” as 8th graders build consensus and commit to a societal problem that is important to them — youth mental health. Students research the issue, prepare an action plan, practice their persuasive argument, execute their plan, then take their experience to Civics Day at Boston’s State Capitol to win first prize. It’s an inspiring story of hands-on democracy that teaches kids they really can make a difference
Questions Toward Action: Caren and Ellie
How can children of all ages begin to fill their toolboxes for democracy? How can we help them recognize traits that inspires democratic principles, such as fairness, honesty, responsibility? How do we best teach young people how the American government works? How do we prepare our precious children to become engaged citizens and take peaceful action to create “a more perfect union” and a better world? There are plenty of resources and inspirational leaders to guide us. “No justice. No peace”? Let’s expand the call to:
- For John Lewis’s complete letter published in the New York Times: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” by John Lewis, New York Times, July 30, 2020.
- For an overview of the teaching of civics in school and suggested programs: “The State of Civics Education,” Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown, Center for American Progress, Feb 21, 2018.
- “Just Exactly What Is Civics Education?” Paul Baumann, EdNote, Feb 11, 2015
- For curriculum and teacher resources for active civic engagement: Generation Citizen and Teaching Tolerance.
- For stories about young activists:
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim and E.B. Lewis, Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House, 2016
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, Little Brown, 2016
Our House Is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet, by Jeanette Winter, Beach Lane Books, 2019
Never Again: The Parkland Shooting and the Teen Activists Leading the Movement, by Eric Braun, Lerner Publications, 2019
For each Peace-ology post, Caren and Ellie partner to learn and explore the meaning of peace by talking and listening with each other. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and children, please share your comments here, or visit our websites.