Ripples spread in all directions when teachers support their students' efforts to work for social causes.
Writing in 1963 about her work for human rights, Dorothy Day said that "we must lay one brick at a time, take one small step at a time. … A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions." She might just as well have been referring to elementary teachers' efforts to assist young students in working for social change today. We start slowly, dropping pebbles, hoping that the ripples will fill our students' minds and hearts and extend out into the world as well. Even given the enormity of the world's problems and the many demands placed on teachers today, manageable projects linked with the curriculum can create meaningful experiences for both teachers and students.
What does social change look like in the elementary classroom? It depends on the interests of the students involved and the creativity of the teacher guiding their work. One group of 4th graders in Iowa City, Iowa, chose to raise awareness of stereotyping of African Americans in children's literature. The students reviewed the school library's collection, considered newly published works, and then developed a list of recommendations for books to be purchased. They also worked with the local public library to create a display of high-quality children's fiction about African Americans, and they read some of these stories to younger students at the library's story hour. This project not only raised awareness among the 4th graders, but also provided real-world opportunities to develop their literacy, communication, and collaboration skills. And the ripples of their efforts touched many others.