Monday, October 15, 2007

Sourcebooks for Diversity and Peace Activities

I recently had the pleasure of planning a mini-social justice workshop for middle school students. I used a lot of the online resources from Teaching Tolerance, but also drew from some books. I did not love any of them, which was a bit disappointing but found gems in each.

Cooperative Learning, Cooperative Lives : A Sourcebook fo Learning Activities for Building a Peaceful World, by Nancy Schniedewind and Ellen Davidson was written in 1987 and it does feel somewhat dated. I also found it hard to know what the right age-group was for the various activities. However, there are tons of ideas in this 538 page book and it is useful as a conceptual prompt. It also draws on multiple intelligences, with a variety of art, music and group projects. The underlying themes clearly focus on progressive politics and social justice issues.

Open Minds to Equality
, by the same authors, offers much of the same material in an updated fashion and with a more direct and clear emphasis on issues of equality. The latest edition of this book was published in 2006. The chapters begin with activities to help students build basic group process skills, and then introduce complex ideas about prejudice, discrimination, multiculturalism and social change. Again, I found some of the activities geared toward younger children and some toward older children -- an index would have helped with this. Some of the activities also felt quite contrived - I wondered if middle schoolers would have given themselves over to the role playing without having this format as part of their schooling from the outset. That is, I think this kind of curriculum would make a much bigger difference as an ongoing project rather than a special unit. The resource section in the back is lovely.

Starbright : Meditations for Children by Maureen Garth was a different kind of book. Because so many authors argue that children need to develop the capacity for peace before being asked to take on the challenges of conflict resolution, many strategies for teaching peacemaking begin with yoga. Garth offers guided meditation for children as a means of helping them relax and develop their inner resources. She suggests using them at rest or bedtime as a way of helping kids build imagination and relaxation skills. I couldn't quite get my own children to stick with it but my older daughter does LOVE the sleepy CDs by Jim Weiss that do a similar thing.

Of all the research I did, my favorite book by far was What If All the Kids Are White? Anti-Bias Multicultural Education with Young Children and Families by anti-bias education guru Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia Ramsey. Although it was more theoretical and academic, the authors put the ideas in a complex context while also offering really age-appropriate and practical suggestions for helping white children a way to think about race, identity, difference and justice while also holding children of color close and maintaining inclusive and loving childcare.

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