Teaching About the Power to Change
By Nick McDaniels
My students have expressed at multiple times this year how powerless they feel to change things, to improve their schools, their communities.
And in a way, their feelings are probably justified. The system which has done so much injustice to them and to people like them is designed to make those that could change the system feel powerless. We know, as Frederick Douglass taught us, that power concedes nothing without demand, but it takes a lot of courage and a lot of hope to make demands.
Feeling depressed about the fact that my students are so frustrated with their city services and the education they are receiving, I realize that I need to make every effort this year to expose my students to experiences that would provide them with enough hope to make the demands that create change.
One fantastic community partner which provides me with great curricular resources about human rights is United Workers. Fortunately for me, this organization reached out to me and pushed their way into my classroom with fantastic opportunities for my students.
As I mentioned in my last post, not only have they helped me to set up a field trip to take 40 students to see An Enemy of the People at CENTERSTAGE, a local theatre that does free educational programming for school groups, but they organized the most amazing guest speakers my students and I will ever hear.
Filmmaker Dara Kell, co-director of the documentary Dear Mandela, along with members of the group Abahlali baseMjondolo, on whom the film focused. Dara, Mnikelo, and Zodwa were dynamic speakers in my class, showing part of their film, doing a real live commentary track throughout, and stopping to relate their experience to those of my students. My students were inspired by their story, were amazed at the action that young people could take. I was personally encouraged by their triumphant struggle, but one comment stood out most profoundly to me.
Mnikelo said to my students that we must not stop saying what is right. I realized then that the reason my students feel powerless is because doing and saying what is right has for some reason lost a lot of its power and allure. We as teachers then need to, at every turn, reinforce what Mnikelo told my students, that no one should stop saying what is right. The advice is so simple, but so reassuring to everyone who sees injustice and feels compelled to speak against it. And for my students, not only to be reassured in the confidence in saying what is right, but also to realize that eventually saying what is right to the right people will create massive change is pretty powerful.
I feel inspired after these speakers came to my classroom, inspired that my students have regained some fervor for changing their communities, inspired that great community partners and allies from around the globe care enough to invest in my students, the future. I am grateful for the lessons I learned myself, and have reassured my own confidence in saying what is right.
There are few more important dedications than that for a teacher.