Students Learn to “Speak Truth to Power” in Civil Rights Reenactments

Teachers at Friends School Haverford often reinforce the Quaker testimonies of equality, peace, and peaceful conflict resolution through play, social interactions, and making connections to powerful stories. But when preschoolers, kindergartners, and their middle school partners—who gather weekly to talk and share different experiences—began working together on their social justice unit, they quickly realized that this was something extraordinary.

On January 16, a variety of activities inspired discussions on whether or not the rules of the classroom, school, and greater society are fair for everyone. When the preschool group re-enacted Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus, some students were arbitrarily placed in the back; when they refused to move, they were sent to “jail.” A moving simulation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott followed. The kindergarten partners were to read and discuss a book about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.; once again, some students were allowed to sit comfortably and eat snacks, while others were asked to stand in the back of the room.

Later, group conversations allowed the students to share their reactions to the day’s events. Some had felt “angry,” “sad,” “disappointed”; some had felt unfairly treated. But the ultimate outcome was a good one, says preschool teacher Tuesday Vanstory. “Our children, on their own, have drawn parallels between these stories and were easily drawn to these moving accounts of injustice, protest and victory.” And ultimately, as Quakers say, they “spoke truth to power.”

Does your school do something similar?

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