In quality language arts and social studies classes, students are tasked with learning about and critically engaging issues of social justice as a means of teaching participatory democratic citizenship. Topics introduced can include race, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and more. Furthermore, social issues can range from local to global in their scope.
Sadly however, most students, especially in Taiwan, learn very little about citizenship, society, and justice, and those that do study concepts and circumstances are abstract and have little impact on their daily lives.
Addressing injustice and encouraging positive citizenship are major goals of education. Therefore, students should learn how to critically examine instances of injustice in their world and lives, develop the skills to address these issues, and develop confidence to engage in democratic and political processes as adults.
To help with this initiative, Englist is beginning a course titled “Critical Thinking and Citizenship” where students will examine their communities and determine where they see injustice in their own lives, and then design and complete a project based around their findings. This course is based on current research in education and pedagogy, and works to engage students in a dynamic and novel format.
Here’s why students should take the class:
Reason 1: students will learn critical awareness of social issues and how they can address them
In the Critical Thinking and Citizenship class, students will be tasked with identifying an instance of injustice in their communities or lives. Students will need to go out into the world, discover what they can about their topic, then take a hard look at the problem to determine how they can tangibly and personally address this injustice or attempt to have it changed.
For example, a student might choose to focus on homelessness and mental health in Taipei. Rather than just read about it, students would need to contact city officials, advocacy groups, and those affected by homelessness to learn as much as they can. Then students will need to develop an action plan; in this instance students might develop a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for basic supplies for the homeless, or to donate to a worthy non-profit organization engaged in the issue. A benefit of this project would be to help raise awareness of the problem and motivate others to look at it more closely as well.
Reason 2: students get to complete a project of their choice
As mentioned, students will come up with a community project they will spearhead, design, implement, and complete. Students will need to decide what issue is important to them based on their own interests, concerns, circumstances, and abilities.
Teachers will assist students in focusing and narrowing their projects so as to be both more effective and realistic for students to address, and once topics are settled on, teachers will support students in the research, development, and completion of their projects.
Reason 3: students will explore many different topics
While the course will be project-based, students will also be exposed to a number of social issues, mostly focused on Taiwan and Asia. These could include large-scale and historical explorations of circumstances like the Taiwan-China relationship, Taiwan’s White Terror, and human trafficking in Taiwan, as well as more localized, seemingly mundane topics like gender equality at work and school, LGBTQ rights, and socioeconomic injustice in daily life.
Students will be tasked with looking at all of these issues in new ways. Rather than learning about them as abstractions, students will need to examine how these issues affect their own lives and develop competency in discussing these social problems.
Finally, because each student will need to complete a report and presentation exploring their projects, all students will have a chance to engage with the work of their classmates.
Reason 4: students will engage communication and analysis in multiple formats
This course will require many different styles of thinking and communication to complete and present their projects. The different formats students will employ are:
Research essay: students will choose an issue, document the need for change, present their strategy, document their efforts, and present a conclusion.
- Presentation and public speaking: students will compose slideshows and give periodic presentations throughout the term explaining progress, as well as a final presentation at the end of the course.
- Class discussion: students will be required to ask questions, critique the work of classmates, and engage in civil debate about issues. Furthermore, students will frequently be asked to take the lead, and to teach the teachers about their own issues.
- Engaging with local authorities and other adults: in the course of their projects, students will have to reach out to various authorities in the communities they chose and will be required to communicate with people in positions of power. Students will likely also conduct interviews with other members of the public affected by their issue.
Reason 5: this class is a great extracurricular activity and will help with college applications
Student projects will be documented, and their papers and presentations will be made available on the Englist website, TaipeiTeenTribune.com, and across Englist and TTT social media platforms. Chances are many of these projects will be picked up by other interested parties and spread even further.
As such, students will be able to point to these projects as unique extracurricular experiences that will look compelling to college admissions officers. The appeal of the project lies in the independence of student action, the tangible impact on the community, and the ability of students to engage in multilayered thinking and communication.
Bonus reason: students will make some people angry
Trying to create change in established systems and being critical of them has a way of offending the authorities in those systems. As such, students embarking on this project are sure to make someone in a position of authority angry or uncomfortable.
However, this is the point. Injustice and unfairness are uncomfortable, and so is change, but that is necessary to make things better. As adults, students will have a choice: should they sit back and let injustice they see continue, or should they work to make the community, the nation, and the world a better place?