Can one person make a difference?
The last class for the Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust unit involves watching the film Not in Our Town, which describes a series of hate crimes that took place in Billings, Montana, in the 1990s, and the town's reaction to these events. The people in the town really came together and fought back, and the film illustrates what can happen when people speak out against activities they believe are wrong.
After the film, we broke up into small groups and talked about the film, and then the students responded to two questions: What would you most like to change about school? What could you do to change this? I asked each student to answer these questions, and then each group picked one or two ideas that they wanted to see implemented.
When we came back together, we got up on the board the list of changes the students desired, which included:
More time to do things other than school or school sports, so a shorter school day or less homework
Better school lunches
Students treating one another better
Less favoritism on the part of teachers
More individualized choices about classes, so that students could design what they study based on their interests and goals
More choices for sports
The next day, we talked about all of the ideas that had emerged from the groups, spending over an hour discussing the reasons the students thought these changes were needed and how they might approach making them happen. It was exciting to see how engaged and energized many of the students were in thinking about these issues. They chose two that they would like to work on as a group: better school lunches and more time outside of school.
We talked about the importance of creating a plan and thinking through exactly what they wanted, and about how much power they had to make change. Students often seem to think that here they are, locked in a situation (school) over which they have little control, and though they complain a lot, they don't seem to try very hard to make anything in school better. We talked about how empowering it can be to work together to make change happen and about recognizing that what you think and say and do matter.
Postscript: The language arts teacher, Jane Orme, told me today that the students began working on a survey about school lunches to distribute to all of the students in the school, and are on their way to trying to improve the situation.