AFT TEACH 2013: Social justice just two clicks away

Donna Bryan and Walter Robertson

Donna Bryan from the Coxsackie-Athens TA talks with Dunkirk TA's Walter Robertson after a workshop at AFT TEACH on bringing social justice issues into the classroom.

Educators will soon have access to three new human rights lesson plans, another tool to help further the union’s social justice mission.

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler and Donna Bryan, a veteran English language arts teacher from Coxsackie-Athens High school, helped lead a panel discussion on “Teaching About Global Human Rights Challenges: Mandela, Malala and GAP, Inc.”

The workshop session, one of many at the AFT TEACH conference this week, unveiled AFT’s newest human rights resources for the classroom: 40-minute, Common Core-friendly, ready-to-use lessons on three engaging topics. Bryan said the modules were developed by a group of teachers from around the country to help teachers weave human rights issues into classroom lessons. “They can provide a new context for your teaching and really engage your students,” Bryan said. “And best of all, they’re just two clicks away.”

Educators got a sneak peek at some of the elements of the three modules and learned ways to “hook” students into social justice issues. The units feature many young activists and include video clips, speeches, news reports and songs.

The “Girls education” unit revolves around Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl who was shot by the Taliban for challenging the denial of education to girls in Pakistan.

“The hidden human cost of fashion,” encourages students to examine the labels on their clothes and helps them consider the way goods are produced. The third lesson, exploring the legacy of Nelson Mandela’s life, is still under construction.

All the modules, which will be available through AFT’s Share My Lesson website before the school year begins, include possible action steps for students to get involved.

Some workshop participants expressed concerns about delving into such controversial issues.

“You have to choose your words carefully. In some cases, you’re shaking up a students’ world — perhaps disagreeing with what they’re hearing from their parents at home,” Bryan said.  “Balance is the key.”

A fundamental goal is to expose students and encourage them not to be bystanders, said Cutler, who coordinates NYSUT’s social justice agenda statewide.

“We need to convince the students that like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, they have the power within themselves — quite literally within their wallets — to bring about change.”

Visit to access the thousands of teacher-created lesson plans available online.

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