Homework: a chance to connect teens to social justice issues
Teens can be a little tricky to connect with so when it comes to exploring social justice issues with them, I am going to suggest a tactic that might both help to open their eyes to issues and help them personally.
Teenagers have homework. It is a fact of life. Most teens also don’t like doing their homework and may like getting help. Maybe you connect what they are learning with larger social issues. Bonus points if you connect it with relevant recent news.
Here is an example, many classes have required reading and essay writing as an assignment. Take a look at their reading list a read some of it yourself. A common english class book is Jane Eyre. Most of the time people focus on the story being feminist literature, for its time, because, well, Jane was a little sassy. She spoke her mind. She didn’t act subservient to Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester and Jane even broke class structure rules by forming a relationship in the end. There have been many teen written papers that can basically be summed up like this “Hooray for Jane, hooray for feminism, hooray for Charlotte Bronte!”
Braking class structure? Hmmm, bit of a stretch when Mr. Rochester can’t actually be with Jane untill he loses everything in a house fire, and also loses his sight. But anyway, there is a character that so many people just gloss over: the wife. You know, the woman described as dark, animalistic, and wild. Who is, by the way, locked in a cage. This is justified by declaring her insane, which also helps to keep emotional distance between the character and the reader.
Did the descriptive words come from Charlotte Bronte’s imagination. No. Definitely not. Describing people of color in this way is steeped in racist history. There are numerous resources that a parent/teen pair can dive into to learn more, and reference for an essay that actually has content with depth. And in the meantime you have probably had some interesting conversations with your teenager about social justice issues. Kudos to you if you make connections to recent news.
Want an idea that is sure to please any teacher that assigns Jane Eyre? Do a comparative essay with Wide Sargasso Sea. The author writes the wife’s story.
Yes, this does mean adding a little homework to your schedule, but not as much as you think. Read when you normally would anyway: before falling asleep, on the toilet, in a waiting room. Bring up topics at dinner time or when you are driving somewhere together. Give ideas about research themes relating to social justice issues, but let them do the research themselves. It is their homework afterall.