I am a tutor with America Reads through SCALE UNC and one of our main focuses is social justice. Each year, SCALE participates in an event called Global Youth Service Day (GYSD). This year GYSD will take place on April 18th. Global Youth Service Day is one of the largest service events celebrated all over the world. In order to prepare for GYSD, the tutors are supposed to introduce the idea of social justice to our tutees. All of the tutees are required to write a story about social justice and it will be included in the final, published copy that will be available at Global Youth Service Day.
I really struggled with coming up with how to bring up the idea of social justice and what activities to plan for my students. However, as usual, I resulted to books that exemplified everything social justice means and stands for.
I let Cooper, my second grade student, read a book called A Boy and A Jaguar. This book was about a little boy who had a stuttering problem. He was very insecure and afraid to talk to people because of his problem, but there were two things he could do without stuttering: sing and talk to animals. The story explained that the boy had many pets and would always talk to them and promise them to always love and take care of them because he loves them so much. Basically, the story introduced the idea that even though people may have disorders or even speech impediments, we can always find comfort in someone, or something – and being different is okay!
Destiny and Natalia, my third and fifth grade students read the same book, Separate is Never Equal. This book was about a little girl named Sylvia Mendez who moved to Westminster, California with her family in 1940. Her and her brother were required to attend the “Mexican school” which was next to a cow field, surrounded by an electric fence, and had poor quality teachers, while the white children went to a much nicer, cleaner school with better teachers and a playground. The Mendez family filed a law suit that would desegregate the schools in California, affecting around 5,000 children.
While reading this story, I found myself becoming very uncomfortable, and I hated that I felt this way. Destiny, an African-American student, and Natalia, a student who moved to the US from Mexico when she was a child, began to react very strongly to this story. They both got really into the book and wanted to see how it turned out. When I asked Destiny how she felt about it, and how she would react if this happened to her and her siblings, she responded by saying “I want to punch that man in the face and kick him in the shin!! That’s not fair!!” and when I asked Natalia the same question, she told me it made her really sad, and I thought I could see tears in her eyes. She grabbed my arm and put it beside the picture of the white girl in the book, and put her arm beside the brown girl and said “That’s not fair. I would have to go to the other school and you wouldn’t.” I also felt very strongly about the book. I don’t understand why or how people ever thought that segregation and treating people like this was acceptable. I’ll never understand.
But one thing I do know is that it is important to educate our children about these issues and about the past. It’s important to explain social justice and the idea that we are all different, but that is okay! Even though we may have different colored skin, speech impediments, disabilities, or different ideas about life… we all deserve to be treated equally and fairly.
So then we all wrote stories about social justice for the book that will be published. Cooper wrote a story about Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream for equality. Destiny wrote a book about a girl named Lin who was in a wheel chair because she was born without legs. Natalia wrote a more personal book about her family moving here from Mexico when she was younger.
I think this was a very eye opening experience, not only for the students, but also for me. Books are a great way to teach kids about very important topics in life, such as social justice. I’m so thankful for the ability to read and the opportunity to share my love of reading with my students and hopefully ignite the same passion in their lives.