Social Justice and The New Fourth Estate

Just about two minutes ago, I was moved almost to tears by this video that I came across in my Tweetdeck stream, shared by Shelley Krause.

This video inspired me to take to my blog right away.  This country is in turmoil…it has always been this way.  ALWAYS.  I’ll spare you the history lesson, but I highly recommend reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.  I just finished it, and found it to align perfectly with the accounts told to me by my parents, since I was a child.  I digress.

This country has always been in turmoil, and whether or not one chooses to admit it, “the land of opportunity” has glass ceilings and walls all up and through it.  Those in power will do whatever it takes to keep it in any way, shape, or form.  Historically, this has been carried out in many ways, with bloodshed being just one method.  Prior to the digital age, these accounts could be spun by whichever gatekeeper was telling the story.  Now that many citizens have video devices right in their pockets, we can all be part of the Fourth Estate.  We have the power to tell our stories.

After the murder of Michael Brown, most news outlets did not cover the story initially.  I was glued to the #Ferguson hashtag on Twitter, where I could see photos and videos with my own eyes, almost as if I were there.  Then, came the video of Eric Garner.  Then, Tamir Rice, and countless others.  Although I knew about systematic abuses of power in different forms, seeing these tragedies unfold moved me to action.

Even more importantly, these citizen accounts opened the collective eyes of the nation to what was happening.  True, not everyone sees eye-to-eye, but at least people are talking about it…although for the life of me, I don’t understand how people can dispute such irrefutable evidence.  Again, I digress.

The beauty of the digital age is that, not only are events being documented, people can also advocate for change on a grander scale.  This video that Shelley shared is one example, of how someone was able to use such tools to spread a very powerful, and much-needed message.  The fact that a video like this even has to be made is evidence of a huge problem, but that goes without being said.

What are the implications as an educator?  There is a whole hashtag for resources devoted to teaching about racial injustice, #FergusonSyllabus.  I highly encourage any readers to look through it…I know I will revisit it shortly.

One major shift that I’ve made this year was have open, honest dialogues about the state of the world with my students.  Members of my PLN, including Rafranz Davis, have helped me brainstorm the best ways to do so, and I have appreciated the idea to let students share their opinions freely.

I will also add that I do share my own perspective with students, since we as educators are human beings, also entitled to our opinions.  I do so to demonstrate that we all have bias, whether we choose to admit it or not, and that they should keep in mind the source of their information while forming their own opinions.  They can disagree with me, and with each other, and they know that all viewpoints are welcome as long as the discussions are respectful.  To clarify, “respectful” entails respect for human life, as well as for the rights of others to have dissenting opinions, among many factors.

Some may wonder, how do we have time for such discussions, while also meeting the standards?  First, I will paraphrase one of my educational heros, as well as my work roommate, Shawna Berry, in saying that it is most important to me that the students leave my class a better person, and knowing how to think for themselves.  I will also offer that teaching English and having discussions on relevant topics are not mutally-exclusive.  For example, one day last week for warm-up, the students researched both #iamcharlie and the Boko Haram killings, then blogged.  We then had a five minute discussion regarding their findings and positions on the topics.  This activity hit on multiple standards, including:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.6
    Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.8
    Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.9
    Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1
    Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.2
    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.6
    Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.8
    Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Take your pick.  I will stop there in the interest of time, but you can find out more for yourself on the Common Core website.

Tying back to the original purpose of this post, our county is having a student film festival, which I shared with my students.  There are multiple categories, including dramatic and documentary works.  I was so excited to hear that some of my students are thinking of doing a documentary on injustice.  These are the moments that I live for as an educator.  Perhaps their video will be as moving and insightful as the one I saw today.

My hope for the future is that there will one day no longer be a need for videos advocating for the value of a human life, particularly based on factors such as race, religion, and the other beautiful intricacies that make us all unique.  In the meantime, I salute the citizen-journalists of the world, no matter what age.

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