At our school, each grade does a yearly mission project, a way to raise money, awareness, or service for a cause our students and staff believe in. Those mission projects vary widely from class to class and year to year. We've seen really cool things, like students working at the food bank or running a cake auction to raise money for charity. And since our school has a Me to We club, we have also done a number of activities with Free the Children.
For the last few years, the grade 6s have done We Are Silent. Simply, put, this involves students taking a twenty four hour vow of silence. They collect pledge money for each hour they remain silent, which we then donate to the Malala Fund and/or Free the Children.
At first, we locked onto this as a fun, simple activity we could use to raise some money and help our students learn about global issues. But it has turned out to be so much more. If you've ever considered doing an activity like this, I can't recommend it enough. Here are a few of the things our students have learned from participating in this amazing activity...
1. When you don't have a voice, things get unfair in a hurry. At our school, we put up posters and ask the other classes to put up a tally mark if they "catch" the grade 6s speaking. Of course, the system isn't fair at all: some kids put up tallies just for fun, and often ten kids will all hear the same student slip up, resulting in ten tallies for one mistake. And then the grade 6s go to complain... and discover that they can't. They are being persecuted, with no way to speak for themselves. They get to experience, in a small way, the frustration so many people around the world have for their daily reality.
2. People victimize the silent. This was an unforeseen thing that came out of the activity: younger students would follow the grade 6s around on the playground, harassing them and trying to make them speak. When the grade 6s finally snapped something at them, they would cheer and run off to make a tally on the chart. This gave us a great chance to speak to the whole school about bullying. When you saw someone silent being victimized, how did you respond? Did you join in? Walk away? Or stand up for the people who don't have a voice of their own?
3. It raises as much awareness as anything else. When you can't speak for a day, everyone wants to know why. Several of the grade 6s actually made up little explanation cards this year, which they've been handing out to people who ask why they're not talking. It's a great way to draw attention to the situations faced by those without voices, both at home and around the world.
4. The kids will never forget it. We can talk all we want about issues of bullying, clean water, education... but most of it is so far outside the reality of western privilege that students will never fully understand it. We Are Silent gives them -- in a real but contained and manageable way -- the experience of victimization and powerlessness. It's not something they forget about quickly, and it's a frame of reference when they have these discussions in the future.
5. This one's a bit off the mark, but... let me tell you, we get more work done today than any other day of the year! Without talking to distract them, the kids throw themselves into their schoolwork. I try to use this as a finish up day because you wouldn't believe the work that happens.
In the end, I really think this is the most powerful mission project we've been involved in. Students have a powerful learning experience, raise money to help others, and provoke conversations among their classmates, peers, and families. If you're trying to think of a way to make some of these issues real for your students, this is the way to go.
Question of the Day:
How do you make issues that don't personally affect your students seem real?
I'm a huge fan of object lessons and games. We Are Silent is one such activity, but other good ones are just about anything from Oxfam and the String Game.
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