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Five Anti-Racist Project Ideas: Discuss Authentic Issues, Grow Community, and Build Empathy

We are living in truly unprecedented times.

A pandemic has impacted all corners of the globe. Natural disasters have emerged in the most uncommon places. And protests are rippling across nations as people re-examine justice, equal rights and protection under the law.

There's certainly not a lack of 'authentic issues' as we move into the 2nd month of the school year in 2020.

As educators, it's easy to feel overwhelmed in helping students address them. Where do we start? How do I address such sensitive issues with students?

Below are five transformational project ideas to help you examine issues of race and social justice with your students.

Project #1: Humanizing the Immigrant Experience

Driving Question: Can describing the human experience of immigration change stereotypes we see? 

Subjects Involved: Humanities, Geography, Art, Photography, Languages, Multimedia

In New London, Connecticut, over 100 sixth graders tried to change how immigrants were perceived in their community. Partnering with a local NGO, each student was paired with a recent immigrant to capture their story and share it with a wider audience. Students completed in-depth interviews, created historical maps of their migrations and journeys, drew full size portraits that captured each interviewee's spirit, and created websites to share their stories with the community at a final exhibition. When the exhibition wrapped up, and the curtains closed, the students did what one teacher described as the "highlight of his career." They created a collective book of stories and used the proceeds to fund one immigrants' green card. Hear transformation stories from these remarkable students below:

Questions for Reflection: Which groups are marginalized in your community? How might you connect students with them to better understand and illuminate their stories?

Project #2: Positive Propaganda

Driving Question: How can we use social media and positive propaganda to help build empathy around social justice?  

Subjects Involved: Humanities, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Multimedia, Graphic Design

The simple, concise, yet provocative quote above is just one example of how people are using social media to help address issues of social justice. Rather than avoid social media, we should teach our students how to use it responsibly to create meaningful and lasting change. In this project, students examine several issues of social justice and inequality; women's rights, LGBT equality, racial fairness, immigrant fair treatement, etc. They also look at how propaganda, both positive and negative, has influenced people's perceptions on these issues throughout history. After a deep dive, students work together in teams to decide on a social media campaign to help portray their chosen minority in a positive light.

Questions for Reflection: What issues of social justice do your students care about? Which social media sites are most popular? How can you integrate social media as a positive force for good in your classroom?

Project #3: Re-Writing History

Driving Question: As historians, how can we re-write textbooks to document and share the most underrepresented voices of history? 

Subjects Involved: History, Civic, Social Sciences, Languages

Does your school still use textbooks? In most places, (and for good reason), because of the internet and vast availability of digital resources, textbooks are a thing of the past. But before you go throwing all of them away, why not let students re-write them? In the same way historians must collate through primary and secondary sources to make conclusions, have your students examine important issues of the past to make their own conclusions around underrepresented voices. In pairs, each will responsible for re-writing a chapter in the next textbook. The chapter can include historical photos, narratives, quotes, timelines, and even qr codes to scan for historical re-enactments! The sky is the limit in this project. If you need a digital program for publishing a class book, Carey Furze, a former teacher has created a nice platform here.

Questions for Reflection: How might you help students take on roles of historians, anthropologists and researchers? What resources do you use in your history classes? How might you help students co-create them?

Project #4: Ancient Civilizations Re-Imagined Through Living Museums

Driving Question: How do we use lessons from past civilizations to build a more just society today?

Subjects Involved: History, Sociology, Geography, Anthropology, Languages, Civics

This project has students re-imagine the most marginalized groups in past civilizations through a 'Living Museum.' Students first examine specific laws and policies in places like Ancient Egypt, Rome, China, Mesopotamia, that made it hard for minority groups to integrate into society. Students then re-imagine these civilizations through the perspective of these underrepresented minorities in a 'Living Museum,' with each part of the museum featuring a different exhibit. Visit Ancient India and see what society would have looked like with an inverted caste system. Or what Ancient Egypt would look like if slaves held higher positions. At each exhibit, students make connections to society today, leaving visitors with provocations about how to make our society more just.

Questions for Reflection: How might you bring history to life in your classroom? How can you use history as a lens into present issues?

Project #5: Healing Our Humanity Through Community Dialogue

Driving Question: How do we heal our humanity? 

Subjects Involved: Humanities, Social Science, Art, Writing

In this High Tech High project, students work together to produce both a magazine and a community summit that answers the driving question of 'How to heal our Humanity.' During the project, students spend each week exploring various issues of conflict (sexism, mental and physical health disabilities, and discrimination) through 'deep dives' which include media, readings and primary/ secondary accounts. The purpose is to help them uncover hidden prejudice and bias, and consider how to conduct the most thoughtful discussions and writing pieces around each issue. By the end of the project, each student will have produced a professional article around a chosen issue, and taken a leadership role in the planning and production of the summit. Learn more about the project here. 

Questions for Reflection: What discussion forums do you use to discuss issues of race? How might you turn over leadership of these forums to your students?

Discussing issues of race can certainly be overwhelming. I hope the projects above help provide a helpful lens to get started! If you want to run an idea by me, I would be happy to act as a sounding board in a coaching session here. 

Thanks for all you do for kids!


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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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