civil rights march

Resources for Integrating Social Justice Into Your Classroom

by Marsha Rakestraw

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., and his legacy, today, it’s important to remember that, with global challenges growing and violence, injustice, cruelty and destruction flourishing, it’s vital that we address issues of social justice (human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, media, culture, and changemaking) with students — to help them think critically and creatively about the world and their place in it as solutionaries.

But with all the tests and standards and demands on your time, how do you do it?

There are numerous useful resources available to help you integrate social justice into your classroom. We’ve compiled a sampling of 17:

  1. Institute for Humane Education – Of course we have to recommend ourselves. Thousands of teachers and community educators have accessed our humane education activities, suggested books for adults and children, our Humane Connection blog and other resources for building a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all people, animals, and the earth.
  2. Americans Who Tell the Truth – Focused on changemakers in the U.S., these paintings by Robert Shetterly capture the words and wisdom of people not afraid to speak the truth and work for a better world. In addition to the portraits and short bios of those featured, the website includes suggested lesson plans to help educators spark ideas for helping students understand their heritage and inspire their futures.
  3. Black Ants & Buddhists – One of my favorite education books ever, and required reading for our students, Black Ants & Buddhists: Teaching Critically and Thinking Differently in the Primary Grades by Mary Cowhey, outlines her experiences integrating social justice, activism, community participation and critical thinking into her first and second grade classes in order to nurture “more informed, articulate, active and participatory citizens who know the power of their own voices.” A great and inspiring resource whether you teach young ones or not.
  4. EdChange – A goldmine of social justice resources, EdChange and its sister sites offer more useful essays, activities, tools, links and other goodies than you can shake a number 2 pencil at.
  5. Education for Liberation Network – Our favorite part of ELN’s website is their EdLib Lab, an interactive database of teaching materials, curriculum and resources compiled from other organizations. It’s searchable by categories such as grade level, topic, keyword, and material type, and something new is added frequently. You can also submit your own.
  6. Facing History – Facing History’s goal is to help “students make the essential connection between history and the choices they confront in their own lives.” FH serves teachers and students through curricula and resources focused on topics such as the Holocaust, civil rights, prejudice, and genocide.
  7. Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility – This organization offers lesson and activity ideas to help foster critical thinking about current global issues. Lessons are searchable by topic and general age categories (elementary, middle school, high school).
  8. Radical Math – Want to integrate social justice into your math classes? On the RM website you’ll find hundreds of lesson plans, articles, charts, books, websites and other resources that you can find by subject, math topic or resource type.
  9. Rethinking Schools – RS has a whole slew of publications that should be added to your “must read” list. Focused on educational reform and issues of equity and social justice, RS offers insightful, innovative, and useful essays, teaching ideas, analysis and more through its quarterly magazine and numerous books.
  10. Roots and Shoots – Jane Goodall’s humane education program “connects youth of all ages who share a desire to create a better world. Young people identify problems in their communities and take action.”
  11. “Social Justice and Language Arts” (pdf) – A great article by Christopher Greenslate, one of IHE’s M.Ed. graduates, and a former language arts/social justice teacher. Yes, it’s only a single resource, but it serves as a wonderful template of specific ideas and examples for integrating issues of animal protection, human rights, environmental protection and cultural issues into language arts teaching.
  12. Teaching for Change – Offers teaching resources, suggested books, and more for helping parents and teachers bring social justice into classrooms and communities.
  13. Learning for Justice – A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, TT is a bastion of educational materials and ideas useful in integrating the social justice lens into your classroom. Between the quarterly magazine, classroom activities, blog, and other resources, there is plenty to delight and inspire.
  14. Yes Magazine – Offers stories and resources for people working for a better world. Includes ideas and resources for teachers.
  15. Zinn Education Project – The Zinn Education Project uses Howard Zinn’s book, Teaching a People’s History, as a springboard for offering lesson plans, resources, and other teaching materials that “emphasize the role of social movements in making this a better world, and that help teach a more honest, critical history.”

Find more useful resources in our resource library.

Photo: AP