Phase Two Essential Questions
- What is justice?
- What is social justice?
- What real world issues need to be addressed to promote social justice?
- What does it mean to be a responsible citizen?
Phase Two Scope and Sequence (Suggested Length: 4-5 Weeks)
As the unit progresses into its second phase, students will begin to focus on the topic of social justice. It will be useful for students to participate in an initial brainstorming session to consider their own understandings of justice and social justice. Because these terms carry a variety of connotations for different students, establishing working definitions at the onset of this phase of the unit will provide a framework for our studies as we move forward. Additionally, students may compose short journal entries to address our other guiding questions for the second phase of the unit. Students will return to these questions periodically throughout this phase and use them to contextualize the resources they encounter.
Some students (and parents, for that matter) may need to be assured at this point in their studies that social justice transcends political labels. Depending on their background, it is possible that students are aware of the pejorative connotations of participation in social justice (for instance, the condescending term social justice warrior). Therefore, the definition used within the classroom should focus not on terms that carry political implications, but instead on concepts of kindness, community, and empowerment. For example, a student who opposes redistribution of wealth might frame his or her understanding of social and economic justice as an expansion of total wealth.
To link our studies from the first phase of the unit to a focus on social justice, students will begin examining speculative fiction that connects more directly to issues of social justice. This phase of the unit will examine Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” so that students may consider their own views of what constitutes justice. Is it enough to “walk away”? Students will then read and discuss N.K. Jemisin’s “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” a response to Le Guin. In this text, the citizens of the utopian society Um-Helat employ interdimensional travel and observe the iniquities of present-day Earth in order to remind themselves that battling corruption must be a lifelong pursuit, which requires substantial sacrifice in order to be maintained. Following these two readings, students will participate in a debate in which they must defend either the dissidents from Omelas or the social workers from Um-Helat. How is each group acting according to a specific definition of “justice”? Is one group more “just” than the other? Putting these texts against one another will force students to examine with greater focus the way they define justice, how that term connects to relative levels of suffering experienced by different groups of people, and to what extent people have a responsibility to others in their society.
As students progress further into this phase of the unit, they will explore Nnedi Okorafor’s novella Binti, which discusses the process and consequences of othering between different groups within a science fiction setting. This short text addresses issues of colorism and xenophobia, and asks the reader to sympathize with the (initially perceived) antagonists. Additionally, in order to negotiate a truce between opposing groups, the protagonist is forced to adopt a new identity. This raises valuable questions for students to discuss: is it possible to maintain a distinct cultural identity in a heterogeneous society? What happens to individuals’ identities when cultures assimilate? To supplement class explorations of otherness, excerpts from René Laloux’ 1973 animated science fiction film Fantastic Planet, as well as selections from Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 film Arrival may be engaging and unexpected resources for students to consider how separate cultures perceive each other. Again, when using these film resources in the classroom, teachers should use discretion, as Fantastic Planet contains (animated, non-graphic) sexual activity, and Arrival contains potentially offensive language. To further illuminate the real-life implications of these works of science fiction, students may read and discuss Maddie Crum’s article for The Huffington Post, “We Need More Sci-Fi Movies that Celebrate Otherness.”
During this portion of the unit, students will also investigate nonfiction articles that link digital technology and social media to issues of social justice, in order to emphasize the real-life relevance of the issues addressed in the fiction we have read. Students will read articles that focus on recent social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the Egyptian revolution of 2011, and discuss the impact that technology has had on connecting people involved with such movements. Wael Ghonim’s TED Talk, “Let’s Design Social Media that Drives Real Change” and Caroline Simon’s article for USA Today, “How Social Media Has Shaped Black Lives Matter, Five Years Later” will be particularly useful resources to share with students at this point in the unit.
When reading and discussing each article, students should identify the particular aspects of technology that have made each movement effective, as well as the likely limitations of technology’s role in each situation. Ghonim’s TED Talk, in which he discusses and reflects on his role in the Egyptian revolution, articulates both sides of this issue clearly, suggesting that, when attempting to initiate positive change, it is important that social media “reward thoughtfulness, civility, and mutual understanding”2. When responding to this text, students should consider how to incorporate these ideas in their own upcoming outreach projects.
Students will undoubtedly be familiar with the subject of cyberbullying, which clearly illustrates the potential harm that can be caused by technology, especially social media. However, high school students are in a unique position to evaluate possible solutions to this issue. Lauren DiMaria’s article “Cyberbullying and Depression in Children” from Very Well Mind suggests a variety of reactive approaches to dealing with online harassment. However, after reading this article, students may be inclined to generate additional, preventative measures that could be taken to combat the systematic mistreatment of others through social media.
One of the primary goals of this portion of the unit will be to inspire creativity in students as they begin to think about their final product, to be created in the third phase of the unit. It is therefore important to expose students to literature that emphasizes the potential use of technology as a tool in the fight for social justice. In “Technology’s Promise of Social Justice Remains Unfulfilled,” Kimberly Bryant argues, “the tech world has by and large been silent when it comes to creating tools for social change… Tech has a near limitless potential to be utilized as a transformative tool for our society and we have not yet scratched the surface of its true potential.”3 Students may read this short article and use it to prompt “what if…” brainstorming sessions, considering the specific issues that they feel should be addressed, and how an app (or some other form of digital technology) could be developed to initiate positive change in that area.
Some of the reading material used in this phase of the unit will challenge students to evaluate their own encounters with problematic material related to technology. Students will read excerpts from Lisa Nakamura’s “Gender and Race Online,” which addresses toxic masculinity in gaming culture, as well as racist imagery that is perpetuated through video games. Caitlin Dewey’s article for The Washington Post, entitled “The Only Guide to Gamergate You Will Ever Need,” will also be relevant for students to think about how misogyny is embedded in video game culture, and how that can have destructive, real consequences for people involved.
Phase Two Extension Texts
Students who wish to take on additional reading in this phase may be directed to Toni Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, a contemporary young adult fantasy novel that grapples with issues of colorism, police brutality, and class struggle. Students are also encouraged during this phase of the unit to independently seek out additional non-fiction articles addressing issues of social justice, which they can bring into class discussions.
Phase Two Culminating Task: Media Critique
In order to connect the information from these articles to students’ first-hand experience, students will be asked to conduct a critique of a piece of digital media with which they are familiar. A list of suggested media will be provided for students who are unsure where to begin. For this project, students will apply a critical lens to a video game and evaluate its treatment of marginalized groups. Along with their critique of the game, students will provide a list of specific suggestions for how the game may be improved to be more inclusive. A presentation of this project will form the culminating activity for this phase of the unit.