I had an awesome mom present me with a fantastic question – how do you teach the idea of social justice to kids. I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this lately. This is what I came up with:
Social justice means that everyone is treated kindly, compassionately and fairly. It is the belief that we are all equal and we are all part of one humanity. It is the idea that none of us are free until every one of us is free. It is the idea that if someone is hungry, and we have enough food, then we have a responsibility to feed the hungry person. If someone is cold, and we have extra clothes and blankets, then we have a responsibility to give these to the person who is cold. If someone is being picked on and feels unsafe, we have a responsibility to stand up for them. It is the idea that we need to use our voices to speak up for people who don’t have as strong a voice as us.
The idea of social justice covers so many different areas – homelessness, poverty, animal welfare, LGBTQ rights, peace building, racism, women’s rights, hunger and food scarcity, environmental protection, Indigenous rights, feminism, loneliness, mental health, etc. If you are working in, or fighting for, social justice, it means that you are working to make things better in any of these areas.
When thinking more about examples that you could use to further explain social justice to kids – examples that would really sink in for children, that were something that a child could really relate to – I remembered a conversation I had with my kids two years ago that I shared on our World-Changing Kids Facebook page:
Today’s World-Changing Kids lesson – two 8-year old boys and a 5-year old girl getting into the car …
We have two grey booster seats and a pink one in the van right now. Upon getting into the car, my daughter chose a grey booster seat, and one 8-year old boy chose the other grey booster seat, this left the pink booster seat for the other 8-year old boy.
He did not want to sit in this booster seat. He said, “What boy would want to sit in a pink girl booster seat?”, despite hearing my regular statement that there is no such thing as a girl colour or boy colour many, many times in his life.
In response, the 8-year old boy sitting in the grey booster seat repeated the fact that there is no such thing as a girl colour. However, in the past, this exact boy has also complained about having to sit in the pink booster seat when there was a group of boys in the car, which goes to show how much peer pressure to conform is felt even at 8 years old.
The 8-year old boy sitting in the pink booster seat said, “I know, I know, but I don’t want to sit in it”, while climbing into it because we had to leave.
As we were driving I decided to use the car ride to delve into this subject in more detail. I said that there are some boys who would love to sit in the pink booster seat, and if those boys hear other boys saying that pink booster seats are for girls and that boys shouldn’t sit in them, then the boy who really in his heart wants to sit in a pink booster seat is going to feel bad. In his head, he is going to think, “Wait, these boys are saying that pink is for girls. There must be something wrong with me if I like pink. I better not let them know that I like pink.” And then that little boy will be very sad.
We do have a little friend, who is a boy, who actually fights with the girls to sit in the pink booster seat when he is in my car. His name was raised in this conversation, which I think helped send the message home. Now the kids could imagine our little friend being sad.
When I got to camp and dropped the kids off, the 8-year old boy who had been sitting in the pink booster seat wanted to talk to me privately. I sent the other two kids into camp and sat down outside with him. He said he was really sad about saying that the pink booster seat was for girls, that he felt like he was going to cry in the car about it. He was worried that because the windows were open, someone on the street might have heard him say that pink is for girls.
I said that feeling bad is a good thing, it means he really understood the situation, and now he can stop feeling bad and just make a rule for himself to never say that pink is for girls again. And that is perfect. That is what life is about. Learning lessons and becoming a better person.
Then he asked, “What if other boys at school say that pink is a girl colour to a kid?” And I said, “Then you can be the one voice that stands out and says that you don’t agree with that, and you can say that there is no such thing as girl colours and boy colours.”
He asked, “What if there are a lot of other boys saying that pink is for girls and I am the only one saying that it isn’t?”
I said, “Well, the boy they are talking to will hear your one voice and that will be enough – to know that he has one friend supporting him will make him feel better.”
He was worried about this, he asked, “What if the other boys beat me up for saying that?”
“That is where real strength comes in,” I said. “Having the courage to say that you disagree even though the other boys might not like that you are standing up to them. If you show the other boys that you are not afraid to stand up to them, then they lose a little bit of their power. And all the kids who sometimes feel picked on will know that you are a brave and kind person and they will want to be your friend.”