Activist: A person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.
“Anyone can be an activist”, I tell my kids. “It isn’t something that only grown-ups or famous people can do. Just think about what’s important to you. What do you care deeply about? (Make a list!) Is there anything that needs to be done to help the causes you feel strongly about, even if it seems too hard? If so, get involved. Find ways to make things better. Be creative. Stay hopeful. Don’t give up. Work hard. … and that’s it. BOOM. You’re an activist!”
Teaching activism to children is important for many reasons. It helps them know that they can make a difference for good in the world. Sharing stories about activists gives children people to admire and emulate. Activism helps children know that if the status quo in the world today is hurtful to themselves or others, they don’t have to settle for it. And because activism can be messy and riddled with upsets and failures before lasting changes are made, it helps children learn patience and diligence in the face of obstacles and set-backs. Teaching activism to children is one of the most valuable things you could do for them. …But teaching them once isn’t enough. Learning about activism is something you do throughout your life. It’s an ongoing lesson, one that should be applied to your daily interactions whenever possible.
Here’s one example…
Taking advantage of a long weekend: Washington DC
I was born in a suburb of DC and have had several opportunities to visit the museums and memorials that it offers (nearly all free to the public – which can be a big deal when you have a lot of little ones!). Every time I have gone, I have been inspired by the greatness of humanity, the feats that have been accomplished in our history, and the lessons we can learn from mistakes of the past.
With a long weekend before us (thank you, President’s Day!), we seized the opportunity to load our kids into the car and drive five hours south to share D.C. with them. While we were there, we took every opportunity to teach them about social good and the Global Goals by way of important activist figures or events in history, …and there were many.
Vietnam War Memorial
Little fingers brushed gently across the names of the fallen soldiers from the Vietnam war. Young minds struggled to comprehend the gravity of what those names mean. We searched for familiar names and the girls were anxious to find any female names. We talked about our uncles who fought in the war and survived. We remembered their stories and honored their sacrifices. We discussed the anti-war protests that occurred at that time and remembered peace rallies that they have attended in their life-times.
When I mentioned that we would be visiting the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, my nine-year-old excitedly asked, “the one from Hamilton??” I laughed and said yes. My girls love the songs from Hamilton and have nearly all of them memorized! How wonderful that they had some context about who Jefferson was. They were happy to see some of the lyrics from Hamilton up on the Memorial (as seen behind the statue in the image below). “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (ahem, and women) are created equal.” Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda and the Schuyler Sisters for helping to educate my children!
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
One of my favorite quotes was this: “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man” (ahem, and woman).
But really, there were many good quotes. Here are two more.
Yes, learning more about FDR and the great Eleanor Roosevelt was inspiring. The memorials in DC celebrate the greatness of leaders in our nation’s past, which is wonderful, because they deserve that recognition. However, no one is perfect. Remember what I said earlier about mistakes and set-backs? It was FDR who in 1942 issued an executive order to relocate Japanese Americans to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was brought to our memories when we came across this panel discussion of Japanese Americans in the American History Museum.
The American History Museum
We didn’t know we would be so lucky to come at the same time that the Day of Remembrance was being observed in the museum. It was powerful to listen to them speak, hear their stories, and remember so as not to ever repeat those mistakes again. (Global Goals 10:Reduced Inequalities and 16:Peace, JUSTICE, and Strong Institutions)
Another highlight from the museum was the exhibit of the Greensboro lunch counter. Here, my girls learned about the young brave African American students who peacefully protested segregation by sitting at a “whites only” lunch counter. Those four students inspired a wave of peaceful sit-ins and brought further light to the injustice of segregation and racism in the country. (Global Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My favorite quote of all time is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” MLK. Dr. King was a wonderful and prime example of an activist who peacefully gave his all for the cause of justice. We asked our children to choose and memorize their favorite quote from this memorial. There were easy yet powerful ones such as, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”, and “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” These were among the incredibly powerful messages to ponder as we walked along the Potomac River to our car where we would begin our long drive home.
How do you teach your children about activism?
Fortunately, there are some fantastic resources out there. Below are just a few to give you an idea, but please know that you don’t have to spend money to teach activism or to be an activist. It is something you can teach by the example you set in the way that you live. It is something you can teach by the examples you point out to your children. It is something you can teach using books from a local library, or in history books, from current news sources, significant sites in your area, etc. Look around and you will see that activism is everywhere, in many forms, both large and small.
A is for Activist (book)
Community Activism lesson plan (easy to adapt for families)
Start a “Girl Up” club (for girls in middle and high school)
Use the Worlds Largest Lesson (based on the Global Goals: there are lesson plans, comics, videos, and more!)
Feel free to share your ideas here or on our Facebook page. Collaboration and crowd-sourcing can be helpful in this endeavor. This is how we pass the torch of social justice and social good. Happy teaching!