Social Reconstructionism among the Early School-Age Community

Preschool-age boys in a classroom setting gathered around a bucket of Legos

“If administrators and teachers do not take a stand on the issues, students will not be able to take a stand.” – Karen Zuga (1992, p. 52-53)

There is no doubt that our human world is fraught with a multitude of social problems. If you took a moment to contemplate this, it would probably not take very long for some of humanity’s social issues to pop into your head. Among school-aged children, the issue of bullying proves to hold high significance, with 88% of teens recognizing that bullying is a problem in their schools.

The social reconstructionist educational philosophy takes the assumption that society is unhealthy. From the social reconstructionist stance, if we have a vision in mind, we can reconstruct our society toward the resolution of its problems. Social reconstructionists are of the belief that the means to achieve this societal reconstruction are created through education. Through education, social inequities are recognized and analyzed by students who, in turn, become inspired and empowered to enact a vision of social change.

So, back to bullying. Bullying is a social issue that can happen anywhere. Even more important to consider, bullying can effect everyone – the bullied, the bullies, and the witnesses of bullying. However, LGBTQ youth are particularly at risk. GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, has released a toolkit for “school-wide anti-bias or bullying prevention” which builds anti-bullying efforts off of an elementary-school-level foundation. The second lesson in the toolkit for grades K-2, titled “Words Do Matter” (2012, p. 14), approaches the anti-bullying issue from the social reconstructionist standpoint of invoking a desire within the students to harvest an atmosphere of positivity, diversity, and acceptance.

According to the overview of the lesson plan, “Using the framework of students’ names and nicknames,
this lesson invites students to explore the power of words in either making people feel positively or negatively about themselves and others. It creates an ongoing framework (Put-Ups vs. Put-Downs) that educators and students can use to address name-calling that may occur.”

The plan provides the following learning objectives:

“Students will:

  • Gain knowledge of what their classmates’ name means to them and their preferred nicknames;
  • Identify feelings that result from the use of either positive or negative words; and
  • Understand the importance of using positive names and words with others.”

Characteristic of social reconstructionist education, the prompts of the lesson  allow room for intense group discussion, bringing up topics that would feel intense for young children in grades K-2. The lesson plan flows through the following progression of discussion questions, providing details to guide the educator through the facilitation of this discussion.

  • “Do you know why your name was chosen to be your name?”
  • “What do you especially like about your name?”
  • “Do you have any nicknames that you like to be called?”
  • “What did you learn about your classmates today that you didn’t know before?”
  • “What were some similarities or differences in your classmate’s answers to the questions?”
  • “If we all have names, why do we sometimes call each other different names?
  • “Can you remember a time when someone called you the wrong name or called you by a nickname that you did not like or that was said to you in a teasing way?”
  • “How did that make you feel and what did you do?”

By touching on experiences that are relevant to them and tapping into the feelings that are connected to those experiences, this lesson, as stated above,  inspires and empowers the learners to enact a vision of social change.

The lesson culminates with the interactive task of categorizing “Put-Ups” and “Put-Downs” on a chalkboard chart, and closes with this final message:

“Ask students to consider what feeling lasts longer, the one you get by giving a put-down or the one you get from giving a put-up? Explain that we might think that putting someone down makes us feel better, but giving someone a put-up can feel just as good and maybe—better.”

– GLSEN (2012, pp. 14-16)

* * *

As the final objective of the lesson states, understanding of the importance of positivity and respect will motivate the students to take a stand toward these issues and drive this social change.

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3 responses to “Social Reconstructionism among the Early School-Age Community

  1. What a great read! This was simplistic, yet a fantastic jumping off point for a number of different activities. Also, very age appropriate in terms of working with middle school youth. It even had me thinking about my own name, and how this could be developed to work with high school youth. Bullying is a big deal, and the narrative around bullying has been oversimplified. It’s not just straight kids bullying gay kids, but gay kids bullying gay kids, family members bullying each other, and bullying also occurs at faculty and staff levels within schools. GLSEN has a wealth of resources and I really appreciate this particular lesson being singled out for use. Also, there is a lot of information on the web about the general concept of social reconstructionism, and I’m thrilled to have a reputable source that breaks it down specifically for education.

    The only thing I would add to this is what to when the activity does not go according to plan, or when there are a variety of answers. For instance, I don’t know about you, but I could get 5,000 compliments in a day, but the one criticism is what I will take home with me, not the good stuff. Developmentally, I think younger folks will generally agree that put-ups will last longer than put-downs, but what about the one lone soul who disagrees? I get that we want to teach to go for the put-ups and not the downs, but if we want to foster an environment where folks can discuss issues authentically, there must be room for dissent. I think utilizing the social reconstructionist philosophy can create this environment, and make room for the multiple ways people experience and interpret human interaction.

  2. Malia – This is a great tool for working with younger kids around bullying and the power of words. I bet that re-working it using kid’s Facebook user names or other social media would be really interesting for older kids. I really like how the activity encourages children to talk about their names and what names mean to them – it’s such a personal subject, but not too invasive. People of all ages are eager to share their personal narratives, and this is a really good way to allow students to share a bit of personal history. I think asking about the origins of their names also shows students that you care about them and are interested in hearing about their lives. This could be a really good way for a teacher to help build that sense of trust and community in a classroom.
    Like Jaymie, I wonder about the ways this could go wrong, too. What do you do when a kid tells you that their parent calls them “Stupid Stacy” or says they were named after someone who brings up sad feelings, like an absent father or a deceased relative? What if the put-downs students suggest seem to be targeting another kid in the class?

  3. Malia,
    I like that you selected this topic and lesson plan to discuss. I’m glad to see that there are resources available for such young populations. It has always seemed that the most available curriculums are targeting teens. Targeting such young children for issues like this is sort of refreshing. I was glad that social reconstructionism came to mind with this population because it seems to be addressing the problem right from jump. Opposed to challenging an already long persisting behavior and then try to sell the dream. I also thought that the Extension Ideas “put up bag” idea is genius for that age as a way to keep it on the rapidly changing minds of youngsters.

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