Why Teach About Protests?
The U.S. has a long history of peaceful protests – and they are protected by the First Amendment. Today, it’s even easier to see these protests in the news, on social media, or walking down city streets. Although ideas like the Constitution and civic participation may seem abstract to young children, ideas like power imbalances or fair versus unfair are not.
Especially if your school uses a program like Responsive Classroom, you probably teach your students that all emotions are acceptable – even anger, sadness, or frustration. It’s how we respond to these feelings that counts. Your students can probably relate to feeling angry about a situation they perceived to be unfair – maybe they weren’t allowed to have ice cream for breakfast, or maybe one grade level gets more recess time than another. Understanding protests helps students learn a method of responding to their frustrations. Music is also an important part of peaceful protest – you can see some ways of incorporating protest music into your classroom in this blog post.
As always, story books are a great way of introducing new concepts to elementary students. Below, I’ve listed 5 children’s books about protests that can help students not only understand what a protest is, but how powerful the voice of a child really is.
(Please note: The covers each link to Amazon, where you can purchase the books. These are affiliate links. Your price remains the same, but I retain a small commission from each purchase.)
Change Sings has gotten a lot of attention since it was published, and for good reason. The beautifully-illustrated book follows its protagonist, seen on the cover, as she meets other children in her neighborhood. Together, they serve their community, play instruments, and sing:
I can hear change humming
In its loudest, proudest song.
I don’t fear change coming,
And so I sing along.
This book would be a great jumping off point for music as a way to join people behind a common cause. Although I haven’t tried this yet, I think it could also be cool to base a composition project off of Amanda Gorman’s lyrics, listed above. Something just seems symbolic about everybody singing the same words, but with their own melodies!
Let the Children March
Let the Children March is set in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. We follow a young African-American girl as she decides to march in the Children’s March. She carries on despite her fear – and even despite being arrested. Not long after the march, she and her friends get to see the beginnings of desegregation in Birmingham.
During the real-life Children’s March, peaceful protestors sang to keep their spirits up despite the backlash. This book would be a great way of introducing the concept of protest songs like We Shall Overcome or This Little Light of Mine.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
The protagonist of the story, Clara, existed in real life – and she led the U.S.’s biggest women workers’ walk-out up to that point. Clara Lemlich was a young Ukranian immigrant who attended night school, learning English, and also worked as a seamstress at a shirtwaist factory to help support her family. Sick of the mistreatment she and her fellow workers faced, she became a leader of the Uprising of 20,000, which resulted in union contracts at nearly every shop. Clara shows that we don’t have to accept mistreatment and that collective action can create tangible change.
What Can a Citizen Do?
What Can a Citizen Do makes the abstract idea of civil action easier to understand for young audiences. Follow a crew of children as they take seemingly small actions in their community, such as planting a seed or helping a neighbor, that create collective change. No matter how small the action (or the person!), we can all make the world a better place. (My brain is already turning with Orff-y ideas for how to use this book!)
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights
This book lays out a variety of ways to fight for equal rights, from knitting hats to picketing to making music. Kids will see actionable ways of making change that nearly anyone can participate in. Written in short, mostly one- and two-word phrases, the book doesn’t so much follow one character as it does demonstrate different community members participating in various forms of peaceful protest, some big and some small. This book is great for helping students understand that protests don’t always mean marching; change can be made in many different ways.