“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:
- 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)
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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.