Activity: Addressing Societal Injustice

February 5, 2014

In this activity students propose actions for addressing social injustices and look at ways that other young people have responded to injustice.

Divide students into groups of four.  Each group should choose one person to be their reporter. This student will keep a record of each person's ideas in the group, and make a report to the class.

Give each group a card describing one of the following situations (or you could use your own examples).  These are actual incidents in which young people confronted an injustice.
Example 1

A fourth grade class had been studying American Indians all year.  They learned about how Indians lived in the past before Columbus came here, and they learned about how Indians live now.  They learned about the customs of many different tribes of Indians.  They also learned that many children think that all Indians live in teepees, wear feathers, and carry bows and arrows.  These are stereotypes that appear in many children's books, and they are not true. 

The students read a book about Columbus and noticed that the pictures in the book made Indians look very silly.  They did not think the pictures respected Indians.  What could they do? 
Example 2

Sarah Phillips liked to play basketball.  She was very good at it and was on a team that played in a basketball league.  At one game, the opposing team refused to play her team because they claimed it was against the league's rules to allow a girl to play.  The league ruled that her team could not play in the league unless she left the team.  What could Sarah and her team members do?
Ask the students to read the situation cards aloud in their small groups, and then to brainstorm ideas about what the young people in each of these situations might have done to address the problem they faced.  The reporter should keep a list. 

Reconvene the whole class, and ask the reporters to make their reports.   Compile the ideas into one list on the board. 
Discuss these questions with the class:

  • What injustice is reflected in the situation?
  • Who benefits from the problem?  How?
  • Do you think the actions you thought of would be effective in changing the situation?


Tell the students what the actual young people did in these situations:
1.  The students wrote to the publisher of the book and explained what they thought about the pictures.  The president of the company wrote back and said that the company did not often hear from children, and he was glad to know what they thought of the book.  He told them that that company would stop printing the book.
2.  Sarah’s team members decided that they would not play without Sarah.  Sarah’s parents supported her by contacting newspapers.  After stories appeared in the newspapers, the league reconsidered and agreed to let Sarah play in the league. 
Summarize the activity.  Our society has been created by people and can be changed by people to make it fair.  One step we can take is to let people who are making prejudiced statements or taking biased actions know that this is not acceptable.  If we begin to do this, we can make our classrooms and our whole world a better place to live.