Teaching Fifth Graders “Social Justice”

The posters on animal welfare, womens’ rights, equality, etc were hung around the school

For a third year, I took part in a “career week” at Edgewater’s Hayt Elementary, where I got to speak on any subject related to my career to a room full of curious, adorable fifth graders. Previously, I spoke about urban planning and city planning, but this year, I chose to focus on my art background and specifically, intersecting art and activism, which is something I have been doing a lot of lately. For the exercise, the teacher and I conceived a “protest art” poster-making session where the students made drawings around pressing social topics of their choosing. This opportunity is particularly meaningful, as this class is made up mostly of children who are either immigrants themselves, or come from immigrant homes and they are the age when I emigrated from Russia. Plus, most had also never heard of “social justice” as a concept, which proved harder to explain in simple words than expected!

The students ended up so engrossed that the teacher extended my session by an hour. In the end, we ended up with posters on a myriad of issues that they then hung up around the school. Working with young people is not only rewarding, but a reminder of how inequities play out in real life. One student was sluggish and made a poster on poverty drawing an image of am emaciated mother and child. Watching her struggle to stay awake was not easy.