Social activism in the classroom?

Having just registered to attend the Bern climate action day on 28 November 2015, preceding the opening of the Paris climate talks on the 29th, my mind turned to using this as a topic with intermediate and advanced students. It certainly offers students language practice across a broad spectrum of topical issues: the costs of climate change, international political processes, the divide between North and South, and public policy. The role of the media in forming public opinion can be covered by looking at the Guardian´s campaign on climate change and divestment in fossil fuel companies. Students can respond on a more individual level by discussing what their communes, companies, and even families, are doing to reduce emissions. And then, of course, there´s the age-old question of whether one person can make a difference.

Based on reading a newspaper article about the lead-up to the talks, small groups could discuss one topic each and present the outcome of their discussion to the whole class. This might avoid the risk of getting bogged down by strong opinions about what can be a sensitive and emotional issue.

The Paris talks could even be stretched over two lessons – pre- and post-talks (if the first lesson doesn´t end up in fisticuffs).

And for homework, students have to attend the action day and write about their impressions.

Or is this just social activism in the classroom??!!


3 thoughts on “Social activism in the classroom?

  1. The point where it becomes social activism is when you start shutting down ways of thinking that you don’t approve of. This can be really difficult sometimes! But as long as you let the students themselves control the discussion and choose their own sides (those arbitrarily assigned debate position activities always fall flat, in my experience), then you can be accused of raising awareness and fostering engagement but not activism.


  2. davidkaufher says:

    I agree with Ben. What’s important is to be a facilitator. Social and political issues have become a constant topic after the attacks in Paris. I feel like English class can be an excellent opportunity for people to share their viewpoints, learn about the issues, and for us as teachers to raise awareness. Being well informed is important, and sharing the knowledge you have in a balanced way facilitates engagement.

    What happens when you disagree with something that a student says, or students start a heated debate between each other? Should some controversial topics be avoided?


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