How teachers can help kids find their political voices | Sydney Chaffee
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How teachers can help kids find their political voices | Sydney Chaffee

To me, social justice is a simple concept. It’s the notion
that all people in a society deserve fair and equitable rights,
opportunities and access to resources. But it’s become
controversial and nebulous, because we’ve stopped talking about what working
for social justice actually looks like. Working for social justice
can look like this … or this. It can look like this … or it can look like this … or my favorite … it can look like that. Those are my students, and whenever I’m asked to articulate
my work or my priorities as a teacher, I explain that I believe education
can be a tool for social justice. But a few months ago, I logged
onto Twitter — as I do — and I saw that a fellow teacher
had taken issue with that belief. “Teachers,” he said,
“should not be social justice warriors, because the purpose
of education is to educate.” And he ended his argument by saying, “I teach my subject.” But I reject that simplification, because teachers
don’t just teach subjects, we teach people. When our students
walk into our classrooms, they bring their identities with them. Everything they experience in our rooms
is bound up in historical context, and so if we insist that education
happens in a vacuum, we do our students a disservice. We teach them that education
doesn’t really matter, because it’s not relevant
to what’s happening all around them. And what’s happening all around them? Well, racism for one. According to results
of the Implicit Association Test, fully 88 percent of white people harbored
subconscious biases against black people, believing them to be less intelligent,
lazier and more dangerous than whites. And that’s just one concrete example
of the insidious effects of historic and systemic racism
on our country. For more evidence,
we could look at incarceration rates; we could look at statistics on police
violence against black people; we could look at the opportunity
gap in education — so yeah, social justice
belongs in our schools. Social justice should be a part
of the mission of every school and every teacher in America, if we want “liberty and justice for all”
to be more than a slogan … because schools are crucial places
for children to become active citizens and to learn the skills and the tools
that they need to change the world. So what are those skills? OK, here’s a secret: many of the skills that people need to orchestrate the kinds of change
that will lead to justice are already built
into the work of schools. Things like problem-solving, critical thinking,
collaboration, perseverance — none of that should be
revolutionary on its own. Combine that with the ability
to understand history not as one static and objective narrative
on which we all agree, but as a series of intertwined events about which there can be
countless interpretations. If we deliberately choose
to explore history with our students rather than just teach it, we help them understand
that history is ongoing and that it’s connected
to current movements for justice. And we help them see themselves
as potential players within a living history. So those are the skills I’m talking about when I say that education can be a place to help kids learn
how to work for justice. But maybe the reason that my Twitter critic
wasn’t happy with that idea is because he doesn’t agree
with my definition of justice. Fair enough. Maybe he and I don’t see
eye to eye, politically. But here’s the thing: our aim is to encourage students
to articulate their own opinions, not to coerce them into agreeing with us, so it actually doesn’t matter
if he and I agree. What matters is that we’re helping
students have those conversations with each other. And that means that as adults, we need to learn how to become
effective facilitators of our students’ activism. We’ve got to help them learn
how to have really tricky conversations, we have to expose them
to different opinions, and we have to help them see how what they’re learning in school
connects to the world outside. So here’s an example of that. Every year, my students study
the history of apartheid in South Africa as a case study of injustice. Now for those of you who don’t know, apartheid was a brutally racist system, and the white-ruled government
in South Africa imposed racist laws to oppress people of color, and if you resisted those laws,
you risked jail time, violence or death. And around the world,
other countries’ governments, including ours in the United States, hesitated to sanction
South Africa, because … well … we benefited from its resources. So in 1976, the South African
government passed a new law which required that all students
in South Africa learn in the language Afrikaans, which was a white language, and many black South Africans
referred to that language as the language of the oppressor. So not surprisingly, students of color
were outraged at this law. They already attended segregated schools with overcrowded classrooms, a lack of resources and a frankly racist curriculum, and now they were being told to learn in a language neither they
nor their teachers spoke. So on the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of kids
from the township of Soweto walked out of schools. And they marched peacefully
through the streets to protest the law. At an intersection,
they met up with the police, and when the kids refused to turn back, the police officers set dogs on them … and then they opened fire … and the Soweto uprising ended in tragedy. Apartheid itself didn’t end
until almost 20 years later, but the activism of those kids
in Soweto profoundly changed the way the world viewed
what was happening in South Africa. News outlets all around the world
published this photo of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who was one of the first people
killed by police in Soweto, and it became nearly impossible
to ignore the brutality of the apartheid regime. In the months and the years
that followed the Soweto uprising, more and more countries
exerted political and economic pressure on the South African government
to end apartheid, and it was largely due to the activism
of those kids in Soweto. So every year my kids learn about this. And invariably, they start
to draw connections between those kids
in Soweto and themselves. And they start to ask themselves what kind of political power
and agency they have. They ask themselves whether
there would ever be a reason they would risk their lives so that a future generation
could live in a more just world. And most profoundly for me,
every single year, they ask themselves whether adults
will ever listen to their voices. A few years ago, my principal got an anonymous email
from one of our students. It informed him that the following day, the students planned
to walk out of school. This was in the wake
of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, and the students were planning
to join a walkout and march in support of the Black Lives
Matter movement. So at this point, the staff at the school
had a decision to make. Would we use our authority and our power
to try to control the students and prevent them from leaving, or would we support them as they put into practice
the principles of social justice that we had taught them about
since the ninth-grade year? So the next morning,
the kids left school en masse and they gathered on the lawn. And one of the seniors
jumped up on a picnic table and went over safety expectations. (Laughter) And the younger kids
took it very seriously. And as teachers and as staff we told them, “OK, be safe,” and we watched as they marched off. The kids who chose to stay
spent that afternoon in class. They debated the merits of protest, they talked about the history
of the Black Lives Matter movement, and they went on
with classes as scheduled. And those who chose to leave
participated in a citywide student walkout and raised their collective
voice for justice. But no matter where they chose
to spend the afternoon, our kids learned
valuable lessons that day. They learned that the adults
in their lives would support them even as we worried for their safety. And they learned that they didn’t need us
to tell them how or when or even why to protest. They learned that they were members
of a community of young people with a shared vision
of a more equitable society, and they learned that they had power
within that society. They learned that events
like the Soweto uprising are not ancient history, and they don’t have to end in tragedy. And that’s what education as a tool
for social justice can look like. And here’s the thing: our kids are ready for this kind of work. So in 2015, incoming college freshmen were surveyed, and 8.5 percent of them said that there was a “very good chance”
they would participate in a protest sometime during their college career. That might not seem very impressive, but consider the fact that it’s the largest number
of students to say that since 1967. And 75 percent of those kids said that helping other people
who are having difficulty was a “very important”
or “essential” goal for them. Again, the highest number of people
to say that since the late 1960s. And research shows us that working
for justice doesn’t just follow from building all those skills
I talked about earlier — it actually goes the other way, too. So working for justice,
engaging in activism, helps students build skills
like leadership and critical thinking, and it correlates positively
with their political participation and their civic engagement and their commitment
to their communities later in life. So in other words, students are telling us
that social justice matters to them and researchers are telling us
that it helps students learn. So now it’s up to us to listen, and that might not be easy. In 1976, one of those kids
who participated in the Soweto uprising, he said that that event
represented divorce between black children and their families, because their families
had grown up under apartheid, and they knew how dangerous
it was to speak out. They wanted their kids
to lay low and stay safe. And when our kids threatened to walk out, a lot of the adults in our community
were really conflicted, too. Some of us worried that they might
encounter violence. Other people worried
that they would walk out but they wouldn’t really know
why they were protesting. And some, including
some students’ families, were really angry
that the school hadn’t done more to prevent them from leaving. And all of those fears that adults have
about getting this stuff wrong — all of those fears make total sense. But despite those fears, we have got to prove to our students
that we will listen to their voices and that they do have the power
to effect change. It’s our responsibility
to equip our students with the tools and the skills
that they need to insist on a more equitable world — and then sometimes,
to get out of their way, and let them apply those skills
to things that they care about. Living up to that vision
is going to require that we are flexible, and it’s going to require
that we’re creative. It’s going to require
that we’re brave enough to stand up in the face of people
who try to silence or delegitimize dissenting voices. And hardest of all, it’s going to require accepting the fact
that sometimes we will be the ones our students will rebel against. (Laughter) Sometimes they’re going to point out ways
in which systems that we have created, or in which we are complicit, contribute to inequity. It’s going to be uncomfortable,
and it’s going to be painful as they push us to question
our own assumptions and beliefs. But what if we change the way we think
about rebellion in our kids? When our kids rebel — when they thoughtfully push back
against our ideas or the way that we do things, what if we chose to see that as a sign
that we’re doing something right and that they’re becoming liberated? I know it would be easier if their critical thinking skills
manifested in more convenient ways — on their essays
or their standardized tests — I get it — but convenience and justice
do not often go hand in hand. And when our kids learn to think
critically about the world around them, they become the kinds of engaged citizens who will recognize and question
injustice when they see it and work to do something about it. Welcoming rebellion into our schools
is going to require some rethinking about what teaching
and learning look like, because there’s this misconception that if we give students any wiggle room,
they’re going to walk all over us and classrooms and dinner tables
will devolve into total chaos. And if we expect kids to sit silently
and passively receive knowledge from us, then their voices will always
feel overwhelming. But if we accept instead
that learning is sometimes messy, that it requires opportunities
to brainstorm and mess up and try again, that our kids dislike chaos
and want to learn when they come to school, then we can set up schools
to facilitate that kind of learning. So do me a favor and close
your eyes for a second and imagine schools
where teachers are thought partners, letting students grapple
with complex, hard issues and not necessarily giving them
the right answers. And imagine schools
where we let students make choices — we trust them enough to do that and we let them experience
the consequences of those choices. Imagine schools where
we let students be humans, with all of the messiness
and the uncertainty that is bound to come with that. Whatever you just imagined, it’s not mythical, it’s not unrealistically idealistic, because teachers all over the country
are already pushing the boundaries of what teaching
and learning can look like with amazing results for kids. They’re doing that
in all kinds of schools, and there are countless models
for teachers who want to get better at helping students learn
in a way that’s more authentic and engaging and empowering. I was a reading a book recently, it’s called “The Students Are Watching,” and it was by Ted and Nancy Sizer, and in that book, they said
that the work of education is often described as a series of nouns, like “respect,” “honesty,” “integrity.” And they say those nouns
sound really impressive, but often, they fail
to actually mean anything in practice. But verbs, they say, are “active, no less demanding but requiring constant engagement. Verbs are not structures
but, rather, engines.” And so as I read that, I wondered: How do we make justice into an engine
driving our work as teachers? What’s the verb form of justice? I think there might be an answer
to be found in the words of Cornel West, who famously said that “justice
is what love looks like in public.” And all of my nerdy English
teachers in the crowd know that love can be a noun and a verb. School has to be bigger. It has to mean more
than “I teach my subject.” School has to be about teaching people to change the world for the better. If we believe that, then teaching will always be
a political act. We can’t be afraid of our students’ power. Their power will help them
make tomorrow better. But before they can do that, we have to give them chances
to practice today. And that practice
should start in our schools. Thank you very much. (Applause)

About James Carlton

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100 thoughts on “How teachers can help kids find their political voices | Sydney Chaffee

  1. Uhhhh teachers shouldn't be "helping kids find their political voices"

    Is there anything parents are allowed to do for their kids now?

  2. Teachers like her need to be executed on live TV at 9pm on International televisions. With slow motion and instant replays!

  3. Of course our schools should teach our students how they can be politically engaged and how they a can have a productive conversation.

    I feel like most people didn't even watch the first 5 minnutes of the video before they disliked or commented

  4. Everyone in the comments seems to think that she's advocating for stopping normal classes and teaching politics in her image. That's literally not what she's talking about. She's describing teaching methods that allow for children to speak up and question the status quo and how they're being taught in an ever-evoling world. Critical thinking without the ability to think for oneself is just a critically bad situation, which we're in now in America

  5. As teachers, we are taught in University that we should give all the tools for the students in order for them to be able to form their own opinion, not to present things as general facts being biased by our own feelings. I feel like this woman uses propaganda, rather than is trying to open her students eyes. Also, if you teacher the same subject to your student ever year, you clearly do not give them the tools to be able to understand the society they live in.

  6. Sydney Chafee sounds very post modernist. Neo Marxist comes to mind as well.. I would love Jordan Peterson to debate Chafee. And my bets would be on Jordan Peterson.
    No big shocker that Chaffee comes from the deep blue state of Massachusetts, a state controlled by social justice warriors and full of snowflake factories (otherwise known as leftist colleges and universities).

  7. "How teachers can help kids find their political voices " Sorry TED, but that's exactly what's wrong with modern day American colleges.The last thing schools need is more far left indoctrination replacing actual education, let alone riling up the more naive and short tempered kids into joining violent "activist" groups like ANTIFA. Reporting this video for literally promoting terrorism.

  8. You can’t guarantee that teachers won’t teach with their political bias when “teaching students how to think.” This is scary!

  9. Infinite thumbs up!! Keep doing what you're doing and ignore all the haters (they don't matter). It's like this page was linked to Rush Limbaugh's Facebook page. LOL

    A new world is possible!

  10. Propagandist indoctrination. This is why I talk with my daughter everyday about things she learns in school (10th grd this year) and she knows that there is always another side to what ever she's taught and to always question what the lesson is really trying to teach vs. what the truth is.

  11. This is stupid. Most schools already have elective courses or after school activities for those who want to become politically active. Saying all teachers should encourage all students to become political is no worse than forcing/manipulating students into anything else. Even if it is for a "noble" cause.

  12. I am fine with social justice. What I'm not fine with is having such an influential figure such as your teach actually TEACHING what social justice is supposed to be. That leads to so much grey area because we can't assume that all teachers are on the same accord. Therefore that will further guide young minds to whatever they're being told is true and close the door for someone further down the line to positively influence them because it may be a stark difference between what they've been told is true. That's even worse now because they will have an actual institution backing up their ignorant views. People are already bull headed enough on their own merits. This woman is delusional.

    As much as I want actual social justice, I DON'T WANT schools to get involved in teaching about it. Teachers need to in fact shut up and teach their subject, not their social views.

  13. The left has gotten ridiculous. The teachers are encouraging their students to walk out over Michael Brown? The guy who robbed a convenience store on camera.

  14. She should be fired! Social Justice is an acronym for brainwashed bigotry. Social Justice is not taught by unbiased people. It is a political statement by definition. She should, in an unbiased way, teach her her subject and lay off the social indoctrination. Young students don't have enough life experience, knowledge or context to even understand "social justice".
    Teaching rebellion and activism to kids is criminally negligent and in a very real sense, child abuse. Justice requires maturity and understanding. Kids have neither.

  15. They’re not finding their own political voice though. This woman is clearly very biased towards the left, while she should try to remain neutral and let the kids choose their own life and beliefs

  16. This is amazing!! To help children find their own voices based on love is a full of hope speech! I really don't know why people are so angry about it. Taking responsibility for our social part is healthy to everybody.

  17. She gives a statistic that most white people harbor bias towards black people (she is giving this as a fact) but then she makes the assertion that these same white people believe that they are smarter than black people (not as fact but wants you think this is the truth without providing evidence )

  18. Teachers should be fired and jailed for even attempting to politicize someone else's kid. Geezus like our values no longer matter, secular means division between state and man.

  19. 'Know why you believe in'

    Learning HOW to be rational and how to live with your beliefs? (Great)

    School should teach you how to survive under the minefield in planned by social justice warrior.

  20. It is very clear that the word social justice is a code word for antiwhite hate justification.

  21. Democrat/socialism are trying to brain-washing our children in schools to there point of views. Education should be unbiased. Public school system should be abolished. Private schools should compete for the students.

  22. I wonder how many people in the comments will totally ignore the fact that the presenter specifically explains that this idea isn't about teaching kids a particular ideology, but rather empowering them to discover and act upon their own beliefs.
    Oh, every single one of them? Awesome. Stay classy, youtube.

  23. Social Justice infers that someone will determine what's acceptable and what is not.  This actually oppresses free speech.  Education should focus on teaching the tools required to be successful.  Not to influence a political or "social" agenda.  A great example of why education fails the students.  This woman is the typical liberal sheep.

  24. What she says is right. We have to help children by not brainwashing them to one view, but teaching full & true history along with critical thinking skills, so that they can be open-minded & informed of what goes on in the world. And we have to show them that we support them making informed, thoughtful decisions. Then they can each decide what they feel needs to be done to make a better world. It has been shown historically that ignoring this leads to adults that 1. don't know how to think for themselves, 2. don't understand how to be a person who can change the world & feel helpless or resigned to it staying the same, 3. just spout whatever idea was hammered into them during childhood outside of school, & 4. never understand that others might have a good reason for a different view.

  25. If my kids were in this woman's class, I'd pull them out as fast as possible. It is not the job of teachers to mold students to their own personal agenda's. It is their job to teach a subject.

  26. Wow someone actually challenging the status quo and doing something different for change. You can tell from the comments people hate change but just imagine what would happen if change did occur. The good, the bad and possibly something beautiful. Hopefully one day we overcome our fear of difference.

  27. I think the end goal of what the speaker is trying to achieve here is a bit too politicized. Is it good to teach our kids to be politically active? Yes.
    The problem here is that you're teaching them to seek your definition of "justice" which seems to have been manipulated to convince the speaker that what they are doing is absolutely correct. As many have said, you're teaching people to think not what to think. Insisting on teaching your own definition of justice is just as toxic as anyone else doing the same. If you want to create a positive impact, teach students to be politically active based on facts. Spend time letting them discuss with each other, and how to facilitate productive converstations. Don't cram "justice" down our throats.

  28. Well what i think the main focus here is not about politics or what to think.
    From what i understood from this, its about whether a teacher should teach people instead of subject.
    Another thing about this is yes this can be on Ted as Ted is a platform for people to spread ideas. Surely not everyone agree and accept the ideas but i think we should respect people’s idea.

  29. I have a novel idea. It may seem really dumb to a person of such intellectual prowess as yourself, what with me being a primitive peon and all, but how about you maybe let kids be kids and let them come into politics and decide what's important to them on their own?

  30. It is a good idea, but the teachers got to be prepared to handle with the behavior of the children and parents also shoud be engaged and help their kids to formulate a critical thinking.

  31. Hilarious how spending an entire talk saying that we need to encourage kids to find their own political voices gets everyone yelling in the comments of "INDOCTRINATION!" So, what, you'd rather have her say "We teach these kids exactly what to think all of the time, they get no choice, they must pray when we tell them to pray, they must sit when we tell them to sit, they must write when we tell them to write." so that she can avoid indoctrinating her kids by telling them exactly what to think the whole time?

  32. You think that teachers purpose is to brainwash kids so that they become little robots that works to push your politic agenda.
    Viewing our kids like tools. This show the true nature of your compassion.

  33. This is wrong. Indoctrinating children instead of letting them decide for themselves how they feel? Pushing political bias upon them?

  34. These statistics are biased and are presented to make viewers feel a certain way. They don't really reflect reality, but instead the bias of the speaker as she pushes her own political ideology.

  35. Is this talk what love looks like in public? Calling people racist in public? Parroting Blue Church's narrative? Giving fallacious arguments for "orthodox" conclusions — stated emotionally and authoritatively. Ironic times ten.

  36. I think a more inclusive presentation, where you display an understanding of the complexity of the issues, would better serve the purpose of helping students find their voice. Otherwise, students may feel intimidated by the conclusions you express so authoritatively and emotionally.

  37. No thanks. Keep politics out of school. As a conservative growing up in a liberal community, it was painful. I was doing my own research in my sparetime while teachers were trying to indoctrinate me and other students, belittling those who disagreed with them.

  38. Soviets did that – all kids were pioneers and Komsomol members and the little ones – had an insignia with Lenin on their uniform. Day and night they were taught about what the Government wanted them to be taught and about the bad capitalism and the nice life of Soviet citizens, about the fight with fascists and the correctness of Communism. Never expected similar ideas to be created in the West, but the times are changing and the possibility of labelling anything the way you want is creating a great risk for the idea of indoctrinating kids. I think it is more important to teach kids how to build healthy relationships, how to be active citizens, critical thinking, a few financial skills, just to know how to take care of themselves and finally how to be happy and fulfilled in their lives, not how to be a social justice warrior.

  39. IT doesn't take a nerd to know that "love" can be a noun and a verb. This is the level of intellectual discourse at which she is operating…?

  40. No. You are not a teacher, you are indoctrinating kids to hate themselves, their parents, their society, the world.
    You are the largest destructive force in the west & your positions should be immediately terminated.
    We the taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for a coprrupt system that is bent on destroying everything it touches.
    Get out & be useful to society instead of working to destroy it!

  41. The amount of people thinking this is about teaching children what political stand to take clearly did not understand the point she was trying to get across..
    Wonderful TEDtalk that I had the chance to discover thanks to a homework where our teacher asks us to find a TEDtalk we find interesting to later have a debate about it. Starting university has been amazing because it has been so far the only place where teachers encouraged us to take a political stand (be it what they agree with or not) this has pushed me to wonder about the world around me and question everything, I blossomed into a young citizen who tries everyday to inform herself and who fights for social justice. Wish more people in the highschool system thought like Sydney Chaffee!!

  42. I'm largely confused why people are calling her evil. Civic duty and engagement is a fundamental part of life and country and being politically active is vital to bring in a new educated generation. Students should be aware if what is happening around them and what power they have to enable/protest it. Teachers should be neutral while promoting informed decision making and voting. This ideology even dates back to Greek times where if a citizen wasn't politically active they were considered idiotes. Children need to learn that the only thing worse than not voting is uneducated voting. I feel this coincides with her lesson of social justice and letting students know they can advocate for themselves and others who need it. It does not state that they have to.

  43. Wow. What she is saying makes my skin crawl! I'm so glad I don't have children. I feel for those of you who do and have to send your innocent children into a school system where this indoctrination goes on.

  44. She makes some good points and whether or not we agree with it doesn't really matter. It's a TED Talk and she is speaking about something she knows well and is passionate about. You may disagree, but that doesn't make it wrong. I don't know many people who would have the courage to give this talk and I also don't know many people who are as educated on this topic as she is. Let people speak their voice. Take what you want or leave what you don't. There are so many TED Talks and I believe there are positive aspects to each one. This is the perfect TED Talk to follow this one: Props to her!

  45. How about schools teach the fundamentals and let the children learn from parents and life………………let kids be kids

  46. Wow, if you child goes to the same school as this teacher (they don't even need to be just taught by her). You need to move your kids. This school by accepting her is advocating social justice over education and that's a very dangerous thing. Those poor children are going to be high on endorphins when they leave high school and be destroyed in the real world…. shocking that this is openly presented.

  47. An educators job is to empower students to articulate their own opinions.
    Only if it applies to the educators political position. I wonder what the SJW would do if some of her students wore MAGA caps into class. Can anyone guess?

  48. This is stupid. You’re literally making the students in your class your little political minions for YOUR political opinion, not theirs. Shame on you.

  49. Martin Luther King was not a social justice warrior – he was an individual justice warrior who fought for people being judged based on their character and not the color of their skin.

    He was also denied a concealed carry permit and in effect, his right to defend himself, because of unconstitutional gun control laws.

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