Social Injustice

Speaking of Civic Engagement: Quotes to Ignite the Social Studies Learner

By Sarah Hanna, Rubicon International

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everyone loves a good quote. From Martin Luther King Jr, to Henry David Thoreau, to Oscar Wilde, we all have our favorites. A quote has the power to inspire, persuade, challenge, and enlighten.

Integrating [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]quotes from civic leaders can be a great way to ignite students’ interest in civic issues [/inlinetweet]and help equip them to challenge norms and formulate arguments; to take the messages they hear and determine how to respond and take action.

While civic engagement can be fostered across subject areas, the social studies classroom is a particularly excellent platform for doing so. The recent annual NCSS Conference affirmed this with speakers Representative John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson. Their messages prompted insights on the great possibilities of civic involvement and social justice.

John Lewis has served in Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for thirty years and was a key leader in the civil rights movement, including the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Voting Rights March. Integrating and analyzing current quotes that promote advocacy, involvement, and optimism from Lewis and others can be an excellent starting point for student engagement:

“I believe; I have faith that we are going to get it right… Never get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic, and fight the good fight.”  -John Lewis, NCSS Conference

Lewis’ projects a message of courage and hope, and advocates for nonviolent activism. He promotes civic engagement and seeks to inspire people, including students, to be change makers in the community. Students could explore, for example, how optimism and activism work together or grapple with the question: What does fighting the good fight look like? Or how about this powerful statement:

“We all came in different ships, but we’re in the SAME BOAT NOW.” -John Lewis

Bryan Stevenson’s is a MacArthur Fellow and highly acclaimed public interest attorney, who has dedicated his life to helping the poor and incarcerated. Stevenson asserts that by actively facing social injustice problems, we will be much closer to bringing about change.

“It’s the broken that can lead us places; it’s the broken that can transform us.” – Bryan Stevenson

He urges teachers to talk honestly about the history of racial inequality in our country. Stevenson also speaks about the necessity of changing the narrative– that narratives of fear and anger are often the reason behind social injustice.

“I’m here to argue there is power in proximity. We need to get closer to these problems.” –Bryan Stevenson

Student question: How does getting closer to a problem change the way you view it?

Incorporating Powerful Quotes
  1. Display quotes and perspectives from Stevenson, Lewis, and others, and give students time to reflect and respond.
  2. Examine definitions of social injustice.
  3. Discuss examples of and responses to social injustice- in the community, depicted through art, as well as first-hand and second-hand accounts.

Beginning with a few thought-provoking quotes, like the ones above, may help stimulate initial discussion and higher-level thinking. They could also be a springboard to the Compelling Questions teachers and students will generate as part of the C3 Framework application.

Resources to Support the Conversation

What are some companion resources to use when [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]developing curriculum about civic engagement and social injustice?[/inlinetweet]

The poignancy of these speakers’ quotes will hopefully inspire students to thoughtfully consider the meaning behind the message and how the message can drive a person to action. But a powerful, activating quote doesn’t only need to come from civic leaders. Hopefully their statements encourage all of us to answer the question: What is my message and how does my message call others to move?

Have a great unit on civic engagement to share? Email us at Pd@rubicon.com

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