Using Biblical Anti-racism to teach Civil Rights

Over the past several weeks, my 3rd and 4th grade students have embarked on a study of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, largely guided by student interests. In this unit, students have examined racism as a heart issue that has the power to affect systems. In discussions, I have explicitly framed racism as a sin issue and a threat to the public welfare. Ultimately, my goal is that students will understand that as Christians and/or Catholics, we cannot be neutral to racism. While some individuals may argue that neutrality to racism is a thing of the past, current events in the United States say otherwise.

Biblically Anti-racist

We a 3rd and 4th grade class have focused on the following sequence of ideas from the Bible. I have intentionally phrased these ideas in accessible language.

All people have the same worth, since they are created in the image of God.

Heaven and the Body of Christ are multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and thus, multiracial.

God judges us not by our appearances, but by what is in our hearts.

Humans actions and words reflect the state of their hearts.

To love God fully, you must love others.

The way we treat others reflects the love or lack of love we have for Christ.

Therefore, racism is ultimately a sin against God.

Discrimination and sin are not just a Caucasian versus African American issue. Speaking from personal experience, I have seen discrimination between Asians and Latinos, Latinos and Asians, Asians and African Americans, African Americans and Latinos, African Americans and Asians, etc. This does not include the discrimination that happens between nations. In general, all have sinned and fallen short of glory of God.

Through Jesus, we can be cleansed of all sin (including racism), and restored to right relationship with one another.

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus cleans our hearts from any sin (including racism).

The Holy Spirit (and the finished work of Jesus) has the power to change us, BUT we have to allow our hearts to be changed.

When Jesus returns for his Bride, those who love him will be completely made new from any sin we haven’t been able to overcome.

NEVERTHELESS, like Jesus, we should still surrender our entire lives to God to be transformed, regardless of the cost.

The love we have for others shouldn’t be hidden. Our words and actions should match, and be as transparent as possible so others can understand.

Prayer Points

As we’ve reflected on these themes, we have prayed:

  • For God to cleans our own hearts from any sin or hidden racism still there
  • For the Holy Spirit to change our hearts so that we would be equipped to change the world around us
  • For God to cleanse places of wounding and brokenness in people’s hearts so that we United States citizens would be less racist
  • Solemnly asking God for forgiveness for times we’ve excluded others, and acknowledging how hurtful it is when we have been excluded or treated unfairly
  • For wisdom and discernment to know how to love others the way Jesus loves

Examining racism as a heart issue has allowed my 3rd and 4th graders to develop great sincerity in praying for their enemies. They legitimately long to see staunchly racist individuals restored and healed of any pain they are carrying.

With my 4th grade students I’ve also introduced the concept of micro-agressions, which I labeled as “a kind of sneaky racism that people can commit even without realizing it, in ways that they think might even be kind.” I shared an example with students of a time where I had to repent of this kind of sneaky racism, how the Holy Spirit convicted me of a habit I had been doing wrongly, and showed me a solution. In explaining to them that it is up to us as individuals to overcome any internalized racism we have developed from the world, students were shocked and grieved that micro-agressions are so common. They were frustrated by the fact that as individuals, doing the right thing takes so much extra effort. I explained to them that the narrow way Jesus gives us is harder, but the Holy Spirit helps us do the right thing.

The Subtlety of Racism

In order to understand the subtlety of racism, I created an activity featuring the thoughts of several lesser known individuals. I intentionally found quotes and pictures from primary sources in the Civil Rights era, so that my 4th grade students could practice their discernment. For each of the individuals featured, students had to decide whether or not they would consider them racist. Due to the large differences in maturity within my 3rd and 4th grade students, I decided to wait until next year (or later) to do this activity with my 3rd graders, because they are not yet ready for it. As teachers, parents, or youth leaders of any kind, discernment is important. After completing this exercise, my 4th graders were very engaged and had a lot to say on the topic.

For this activity, I intentionally made each of the 3 individuals white men, but not because I believe White men are at their core any more likely to be racist than other individuals. By featuring white men only, my goal was to make appearance one less variable to influence students’ decisions, and to encourage students to reflect on who had power and who did not during the Civil Rights era.

I also included a Bible verse that each individual used to defend their position on Segregation vs. Integration (from primary sources). Here is a summary of each individual’s opinion:

W. A. Gamble: “The Bible is against Racial Mixing, therefore Integration is sinful”

L. Nelson Bell: Follow the law, regardless of if it is just

Rev. Robert Graetz: “Maturity of Love leads to Antiracism”

Famously, 8 Alabama clergy members from various denominations wrote Dr. King a cease and desist letter, which they titled “A Call to Unity”. They make 7 key points within the letter, but their argument is a lot like Bell, “follow the law, regardless of if it is just”. These individuals assert that instead of using non-violent Direct Action tactics, the Civil Rights leaders should instead use the judicial system (which they did).

Dr. King, who was in prison for protesting at the time, wrote his famous response, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In the letter, King decries the lukewarm response of “the White Moderate”, characterizing it as a perspective that says
“I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”, “paternalistically sets a timetable for another man’s freedom”, lives with a “mythical concept of time”, and focuses on what is most convenient for oneself and the white majority over the human rights of African Americans.

Regardless of one’s politics, it is hard not to see Dr. King’s words looming large over the last 12 months of protesting in the United States, whether in the January 6th attacks at the Capitol or through Black Lives Matter protests this year. As individuals, Christians must reflect on King’s words, discern the will of the Holy Trinity in social and personal affairs, and discern for themselves the right tactics to take. Even as members of a society, we as individuals set on obeying Jesus are not our own but are bound to obey Jesus, whatever that may look like. For me as a teacher, teaching these topics has continued to refine my perspective, but I haven’t settled on an easy solution to every instance of protest or cause. I believe that these issues are not easily simplified, and that Christians must use their discernment (good judgement) day by day, humbling ourselves before God. Like individual people’s actions, I do think that it is important to discern the root of a protest. Is it bitterness? Is it pride? Even the same non-violent tactics used in a protest whose desire is to see Godly justice vs. a protest that is full of bitterness or self-inflation will have wildly different outcomes. For that reason, it is important for Christians who want to be reformers in their societies to truly love righteousness, forgive their enemies, and seek purity of heart through intimacy with our Lord Jesus.

Check out these links if you’re interested in learning more about the diversity of responses of White Church Leaders during the Civil Rights Era, and the lessons their responses can teach us for today:

White Churches’ Resistance to Dr. Martin Luther King

L Nelson Bell, Founder of Christianity Today Magazine

Evangelicals Responses to Civil Rights

Student Responses

As a final component of this activity, students were challenged to reflect on the purposes of the law and form their own opinions about the suitability of protest methods. Again, I saw this as an exercise in discernment, with outcomes that may depend on the specific protest, which students will ideally return to year after year. Here are some of their thoughts. Just like adults, they have a range of opinions about 1) Whether the gospel is meant to change just hearts or also laws, 2) What protest strategies are the most effective/appropriate for Christians, 3) Whether Christians should practice Civil Disobedience.

Constructive Catholic Contributions

Both to celebrate students’ Catholic identities and push the level of rigor, my 3rd graders read some of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech, “Report to the American People on Civil Rights.” Prior to the activity, I explained to students that at the time of Kennedy’s election, the United States had never had a Catholic president, and many Protestant Christians were afraid of him getting elected. As a Protestant, I addressed how that fear was unfounded. We spent some time talking about what makes a good President (in terms of character) and how Kennedy’s values from Catholic Social teaching provided a positive influence on his character and presidency. Students listened to Kennedy’s speech on Youtube, then read a simplified version of his speech at their reading levels from NewsELA.

Students then discerned the main idea of Kennedy’s speech, and answered critical thinking questions (with a fair amount of support, but hey, that’s what I’m here for).

Several students finished the activity early, and completed this thinking routine:

Understanding the Purposes of Direct Action Tactics

In order to understand the diversity of strategic thinking during the Civil Rights movement, both 3rd and 4th grade completed an activity on the Direct Action tactics Civil Rights leaders used. While each of these tactics was a form of Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights leaders felt that their cause was inspired by a biblical and godly desire for justice, and they practiced nonviolence.

In order to understand Direct Action, students needed to understand that there were a variety of tactics used during the Civil Rights movement, and just like today, people had very strong opinions about which tactics were the most effective. We have already spent a lot of time this year discussing the importance of praying for our enemies, praying for people we don’t understand, and asking that God would soften our own hearts. To me, prayer is a kind of extremely powerful from of Indirect Action, because it focuses on changing people’s hearts relationally (through the Holy Spirit). Another example of Indirect action would be helping people register to vote, in the style of Stacey Abrahms.

It is important to note that Direct action tactics are specifically designed to change outcomes within a particular context. The goal of public demonstrations, on the other hand, is largely to 1) build public awareness, and 2) create constructive tension. Public demonstrations can be nonviolent or violent, depending on the intentions of their facilitators and attendants.

We also briefly discussed the Black Panther movement and the controversy regarding some of the tactics certain leaders used. With past students, I’ve also gone into deeper conversations about the FBI’s involvement in targeting the Black Panthers, but for the sake of time we focused on what would be most important for students to learn about, specifically Direct action tactics.

Teachers are welcome to duplicate this activity on Seesaw using this link.

Learning the Stories of Civil Rights Leaders

Finally, students had the freedom to explore short video biographies on key Civil Rights leaders and movements. I did my best to select videos that were as impartial as possible so that students would be able to think prayerfully with as few barriers as possible. In compiling this information, it was interesting to see how César Chavez’ faith inspired him to use distinctly Catholic protest strategies (fasting, prayer vigils, and masses). His use of these tactics in the United Farm Workers movement is very reminiscent of the liberation theology of Saint Oscar Romero, a Salvadoran Archbishop whose life and martyrdom during the Salvadoran Civil War is very important to my school’s spirituality.

Contributions of my Colleagues

Thanks to my colleagues, students were able to continue having anti-racist conversations with one another through Book Clubs, and with their families through a Collaborative Learning assignment.

Book Club

As our first week of book club, students read the same book in both Spanish and English, and discussed one question daily with a small group of peers in Zoom Breakout Rooms. The book they read was differentiated (harder or easier) based on their reading level, so all students could confidently participate.

With family: Collaborative Learning Conversation

With a partner from home, students were able to complete an assignment that challenged them to think critically about an image. In this activity, students and their partners separately completed a “Message, Choice, Impact” thinking routine about an image from the National Gallery of Art’s resources, Uncovering America. As a team, we decided to use an image that shows two African American men sitting on the steps of a church, to potentially prompt students thinking about the connection between their faith and Civil Rights. As a bilingual school, students and their families could complete this activity in English or Spanish.

Reflection

Overall, it was very satisfying to explore these themes alongside my students. As we prayed and studied, I felt the Holy Spirit guiding our conversations in such a way that students learned whatever it is that they needed to learn from the topic. Especially given that students have been personally affected by recent protests (including the Black Lives Matter movement), I am very grateful that they could anchor their understanding of anti-racism work firmly in the Bible and could see themselves and their own questions reflected in the stories of Civil Rights leaders.

Next week, we will continue to learn about discernment! Specifically, we will discuss the differences between shame and conviction, how Jesus seeks not just to reform our actions but restore our identities, and how identity change can result in a change of heart and actions. Stay tuned!

In Christ,

Haley

Leading Students into the Desert

With the Lenten season officially underway, the Lord set the scene for a powerful conversation this morning with my 3rd graders about waiting, setting aside distractions, and allowing God to meet us in the wilderness. The Lord wove together our Literacy focus for the day (comparing and contrasting through text structure on desert nations) with Christ’s temptations in the wilderness. The conversation landed on ways that we as individuals of all ages can set aside distractions to meet with God during a time of coronavirus and Lent.

Setting the Scene

Earlier this week, students’ and I discussed the significance of the number 40 as a period of testing, read the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and began to discuss his motivations for going into the wilderness to seek God (before public ministry). Since the majority of this group of 16 students at 8-9 years old fall within Piaget’s concrete operation’s stage, I often need to start theoretical conversations by connecting to students’ personal experiences and 5 senses.

I began by telling students that today, we’d be focusing on people groups who live in the desert. Then, I asked students, “If you were going to live in the desert, what would you need to stay safe?”

Students were quick to respond by saying:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • a hat
  • Shelter (a home, a tent, some place to be safe)
  • native plants (including cactus, which you could eat if you needed water)

Students were very interested in the harsh conditions of the desert, and how plants and animals could survive in these areas. One student asked me, “Can people grow tomatoes in the desert?” Luckily for her, I was born for such a question. Focusing mainly on the Southwestern area of the United States, I explained that plants have distinct areas based on temperature in which they are able to survive.

Link: https://www.arborday.org/media/zones.cfm

Students and I also discussed the nutritional benefits of cactus fruit (called “tuna” in Spanish, my personal favorite) and recipes for nopales. One student with Mexican heritage a chance to share more about her father, loves nopales (often too slimy for kids). I was also excited that this conversation built on an in depth study we’d done last Thursday on rattlesnakes, among other desert animals.

Link: https://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Juicy-Fruit/

Since key vocabulary and background knowledge are two of the most important factors that indirectly support students’ reading comprehension, I was more than happy to help students imagine and discuss desert flora and fauna before turning to Jesus.

Our Lord in the Desert

To rekindle students’ memories of our Tuesday conversation about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (or desert), we examined different paintings that depict this 40 day period. Students were able to relate to Jesus’ thirst, hunger, and general bone-weariness through the drama in these scenes. Since the teachers at my school frequently weave their Catholic history and heritage with a healthy appreciation for the arts, I as a Protestant am more than happy to use paintings to support students’ comprehension and faith.

I then asked students, “What do you think Jesus’ must have done to survive his 40 days in the wilderness, and to overcome temptation?”

Students remembered that Jesus was hungry, thirsty, and exposed to the elements. I reminded them that in spite of Jesus’ limitations, he relied on the intimacy and love he had for God to withstand his time in the wilderness. In the story of Jesus, we see that during the wilderness we can:

  1. Redirect our attention towards intimacy with God
  2. Resist temptation because our love for God is greater

While we acknowledged that complete food-and-water fasting is something that should only be attempted with great wisdom, we celebrated Jesus’ willingness to put aside the distractions of his city and other humans to seek God first.

The Wilderness of COVID-19

To land the ideological plane before prayer, I mentioned to students that in many ways, we all are in a kind of COVID-19 wilderness. “In what ways is living in a time of coronavirus SIMILAR to living in the desert?”

Students decided:

  • In both deserts and COVID-19, you need protection. While people need to have shelter from the elements in the desert, in COVID-19, our protection is masks and staying in our homes for safety. **I personally found this connection to be brilliant**
  • Both are dangerous (because people can die) **said a student who has lost family in the pandemic**
  • We can feel alone, far away from others, isolated
  • My contribution: Just like Jesus, we can allow God to meet us (in our emotions) and help us to move forward and out of the desert, both spiritually and physically.

Prayer

In prayer, we asked God to draw near to us, and remind us of his enormous love for us that is far greater than the love of even family members. We asked him to fill our individual rooms with his presence and to allow us to sense his closeness, his love and his peace. We asked God to help us respond to his invitation to meet him in the wilderness, and to put off any distractions that keep us from enjoying the love he has for us. Lastly, we asked that as we seek him, he will continue to remind us that we are loved.

From Prayer into Literacy

After centering ourselves in the love of God, students were now ready to dive deeper into reading. We used a passage from the Reading A-Z comprehension skill packs, focusing on an article that compared the lifestyles of Bedouins and Tohono O’Odham native people in their respective deserts.

Link: https://www.raz-plus.com/literacy-skills/comprehension-skill-packs/pack/?id=408&langId=1&grade=4

I adapted the Reading A-Z materials into a Seesaw activity for my students to complete independently. Students had to read the passage and sort the information for each group.

It was also fun to show students that the subject’s of the paragraph followed an alternating pattern, with paragraph 1 talking about both groups, paragraphs 2-3 talking about the Tohono O’odham people, and paragraphs 4-5 discussing the Bedouins. Some of my students who are still approaching grade level expectations used these patterns to locate key information, and ignoring less important information.

Finally, students reviewed their map skills (last month’s Social studies focus). Based on geographic maps of these group’s territory, students had to estimate whether there would be a greater number Bedouins or Tohono O’odham people. Since the maps aren’t to scale, they had to rely on their critical thinking.

Once students finished this close reading activity, I had them read and listen to this book on Reading A-Z (at 2 different difficulty levels, depending on student ability). I realized rather spontaneously that this book discusses the two people groups of our passage in depth, and shares other facts about other desert-dwelling people.

Reflection

Overall, I’m very satisfied with how this lesson turned out! I always love the chance to explore different groups’ customs and cultures with students, and I was thrilled that several students were able to connect with desert cultures personally. This group of third graders LOVES animals and is gradually developing more interest in complex texts that fall into the intersection of topics we’ve studied. As a class, not many of them started the year enjoying nonfiction, and not many of them were very interested in my relatively abstract prompts about life and faith. They were able to track with me throughout our entire conversation on literacy AND religion, as well as sincerely remind me to pray. Who wouldn’t love that??? As a bonus, by making this lesson gradually more challenging and starting in a very accessible place, I had students read several levels beyond their independent reading level with confidence. Wow.

So far this year, I’ve discovered a lot of success with this group in using Jamboard to collectively illustrate bible passages as we read them, and in using very relatable examples. While their 4th grade counterparts are firmly into the concrete operational stage (regardless of reading ability), pivoting back and forth between the wildly different maturity levels in these grades has been challenging. However, I’m excited to see these third graders grow in faith and reading skill, and I’m excited to see how they will continue to grow this year and next (since I will continue to teach them).

FINALLY, for the sake of fun, we spent the first few minutes of our afternoon Zoom call using the inflatible globes I bought them with a grant to locate these people groups. Yay!

Interested replicating this activity with your students or children? Check it out here:

We (in Education) will be Okay

Late last week, a guest to our school said something that continued to ring in my ears throughout the weekend. He said, “Teachers who love teaching are finding ways to continue loving teaching during the pandemic.” While it’s true that teachers need supportive environments in order to prosper, individuals must love teaching before they can really blossom.

During the pandemic, teachers have dealt with so many external pressures trying to rob us of the love we had at first, or snatch away our love of teaching before it’s had a chance to fully take root. We’ve viciously battled our school districts about return dates and instructional formats, lesson plans and late assignments, personal protective equipment and vaccines. We’ve argued amongst ourselves about the best ways to do distance learning, whether to rely on print materials or press the limits of technology, whether to embrace new challenges or play it safe. We’ve negotiated with students and families and watched with occasional feelings of helplessness as some students seem to wander further and further away. Very few of us have anything good to say about our current classroom state of affairs.

If we view present challenges with the same perspective as in past years, it is easy to grow weak. As teachers it is very easy to be intimidated by the great hill that stands in front of us. We stand here in the middle of the school year, recently made aware by standardized testing of the work it will take to make up for lost classroom hours. There is pressure to rush remediation from school leaders, students’ parents, media, and even ourselves.

As we sift the data, we forget that it data in and of itself will not help us support our students better. Overburdening our students with an excess of routines and pressure will not save them. Relating to ourselves, our staff, or our students as victims or martyrs will not help us. Ignoring the present challenges we collectively face and scrambling to snatch for control won’t help us meet our students where they are at.

In some ways, we have to accept that we cannot control everything. We cannot control when we are made to come back into school buildings, how many students will show up for class, whether parents are available to supervise students as they do their assignments, or whether we will be forced to return home again. For a profession so gripped by our own need for control, many of us struggle to accept our current challenges at face value without falling into bitterness, anger, or resentment. We didn’t choose this, but these obstacles are smaller than they seem.

Our students’ need us to keep our love of teaching alive. Even now, we are providing tools for them to learn that a year ago, would have seemed impossible to most of us. We have allowed ourselves to be challenged and have learned a bevvy of new skills. This school year, we have been changed in ways that will continue to shape us for the rest of our careers. And in spite of a face-value reading of the facts, many of these changes were good. As Mark Twain once said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” While each teacher’s experience of the pandemic is distinct, we as individuals and as a profession have learned a whole host of things we could have learned in no other way.

At just over half way through the school year, we must be careful to center ourselves in the love we had at first. This pandemic will end eventually. We will devise strategic and well-placed interventions to support those who need it. We will fight for students to get the support they need, and just as before, student will learn as a response to nurture. We will return to the days of noisy classrooms, messy projects, and daily misadventures with students. Things may not be exactly as they once were, but they will be similar enough that we will be tempted to forget the things we’ve learned this year, if we haven’t course-corrected already.

In order to conquer isolation, anxiety, and lost instructional time, students need to love what they learn. Our children have what it takes to make up for lost time if we focus on making sure they love what they are learning. YES, we should definitely be giving strategic and high quality supports. But without passion and purpose, our interventions will fail to motivate. Our students already realize that covering lost ground will be a tough climb. We as adults are not the only ones facing anxiety about whether we currently measure up. It matters more that we fan the flames of students interests and relate their passions to current units of study than that we micromanage and over-stress students and their families. There will be a time to hit the ground running, but our students need to be energized to run the race once we get there. Focusing on curiosity and passion will allow us to enjoy the race. They are and ALWAYS will be the perennial starting place.

We as individuals must understand for ourselves how we have grown and how we can still love our jobs during a pandemic. If we are willing to focus not just on what we’ve lost but where we’re going, our love of teaching will continue to shine a light and spark passion in our students. Our love of teaching will give us the joy and endurance for the hill we climb, and we will be okay.

Relating Faith to Research: January Inquiry Projects

In the month of January, I challenged 10 fourth graders to relate their faith to their research! Students who received As and Bs in quarter 2 were invited to participate, and we had three new students join our team this month! In order to facilitate discussions, I divided students into 2 groups in Breakout Rooms. Most mornings in January, we came together for 45 minutes, starting with a greeting, moving into introducing a new concept or skill to guide the research process, and then breaking into Breakout rooms to discuss students’ current growth and give feedback. I frequently toggled back between the rooms and students assumed responsibility over the facilitation of the discussion themselves.

This month, students voted to record their presentations to share as Loom videos with their family members. This eliminated the extra pressure of having additional people listening to presentations or parents’ individual schedule limitations, while giving parents an opportunity to celebrate! I recruited a colleague to record one group’s presentation as I captured the other group. It was a delight!

Overall, students were able to weave together their interests in ways that were creative, compelling, and culturally-aware. It gave me great joy to see them loving God will all their hearts, souls, and minds through these projects!

Student Research Projects

Researching Royal Penguins

This student’s love of penguins has been a yoke of solidarity between us since the beginning of the year. For this project, I challenged him to select just one kind of penguin and study it very closely. I was proud of his verbal explanation of Penguins’ uniqueness as one of God’s creation, and how appreciating them helps us appreciate God. Ever the steadfast friend, this student created his own Kahoot (question game) about Penguin facts, so that his peers could learn more about Royal penguins.

Ravenous for Ramen

This presentation takes the cake for sincerity and wackiness. Brought to you by the same bright mind who put together a college level presentation on Carnivorous Plants in December (complete with Venus Flytrap cardboard diorama), this students’ January Inquiry project came it at 31 pages (including two full pages of sources). Despite of the 3-4 minute limit each student had to summarize their findings, this student achieved his goal with time to spare because he had practiced summarizing his presentation in advance.

Follow last month’s Internet Safety Meeting with families, students practiced selecting quality sources for their January Inquiry project. Imagine my joy and surprise to see how thoroughly this student has applied that skill!

As if his presentation on the History, ingredients, varieties, fast food versions, and applications of Ramen weren’t enough, my student took us on a culinary adventure.

He devoted 10 of his 31 pages to demonstrate step by step (10 Steps) how to make Chicken Karaage Ramen. As a bonus, he shopped at the little Japanese Market up the corner from my last apartment. Small world. 🙂

This student related his faith to Ramen through the lens of community, respecting other cultures, and sharing a meal. Especially given that we as Christians are invited to eat at the Lord’s table as one body of many nations, his presentation was touching.

This kid, amirite?? 🙂

Passionately against Plastic Pollution

Now here is a student whose emotions are sensitive to the Holy Spirit! In class, she is frequently pragmatic and goofy, somber and sincere. For this project, my student focused on the heart problem of pollution, the selfishness and dishonor that it demonstrates towards the Earth, and what she and her peers could do to stop it. Her passion made me think of a project I once did in sixth grade, studying the history of World War 2. I inadvertently spent most of my project psychoanalyzing Hitler’s traumatic upbringing, essentially trying to understand what had turned him down such a dark path. While surprised, my teacher had the wisdom to let me pursue the project from an ethical perspective instead of a strictly factual one. That project allowed me to study questions I had about good and evil in a way that eventually led me to God. Given all that, it felt more important to allow this student to pursue her project through an ethical lens. Intuitively, she included a call to action and summarized with her own personal reflections about God’s power to redeem and restore the earth (Revelation 21).

It was important to this student that her listeners didn’t feel condemned but convicted to reduce pollution. Since the tone of her project was more similar to an opinion piece, submitted her final reflections by quoting herself (hahaha).

Faithfully Fabricating Fidget Spinners

As the son of a teacher, this student has had more than his fair share of exposure to the world of education. Thrilled by the complete freedom to choose his own topic, he chose to study the creation of fidget spinners. While I anticipated that he would relate his project to his faith through the lens of disability and equity, he chose to surprise me! On youtube, he had found tutorials that showed viewers how to make their own fidget spinners out of wood or even raw apples, as opposed to buying ones made from plastic. His main idea: Create your own fidget spinners to steward the environment.

Sincerly Savvy of Shark Attacks

This student chose to study shark attacks based on his mother’s near close encounter with a shark. While she confessed that sharks were mostly ruined to her by the experience, her son decided to see what was really at the root of shark attacks. Were sharks really to blame? And how can we as people try to prevent shark attacks?

One of the best parts of this students’ presentation was the inclusion of Nine Shark Attack Risk Factors, and ways people can prevent them. According to this student, people should:

  1. Always swim in a group
  2. Not wander too far from shore
  3. Not swim with shiny jewelry
  4. Not splash a lot
  5. Not swim where many fish are swimming
  6. Not enter the water if they are bleeding
  7. Avoid the water at night, dawn, or dusk
  8. Not rely on myths about shark attacks (ex: if there are porpoises in the water, there are no sharks)
  9. Avoid sandbars and drop offs

This student related his faith to the environmentalism of Pope Francis. He correctly cited Pope Francis and asserted that by taking care of the environment, humans can reduce the incident of shark attacks.

Agreeably Analyzing Acid Rain

I continue to enjoy this students’ relaxed but thoughtful presentation style! Unlike some, he understands that the key to a great powerpoint is a moderate amount of text and graphics, but a substantial amount of explanation. This student explored the role of acid rain, and what individuals can do to reduce its impact.

This student rarely seeks the spotlight, but will allow me to appoint him as group leader during breakout rooms periodically. I’m consistently impressed by his humility and the fact that he can articulate when he feels shy, BUT challenge himself to overcome self-consciousness for the things he loves.

Like my Ramen radical, this student extended his learning by doing a science experiment! Inside the beaker, there was a chemical that managed to turn the rose a different color. Kudos to this student for his self-directed science!

Like many of his peers, this student ultimately decided that Christians should care about acid rain out of our responsibility to steward the Earth.

Skillfully Smashing Smog

This fall, I was lucky enough to witness the essay-writing skills of this student first-hand. As an encore, she has dazzled me once again by writing an essay to discuss the impact of car smog on air quality.

As you can see, her essay proceeds in a problem and solution format. She begins by connecting to her viewer’s personal experience with transportation, ways cars can increase air pollution, methods to reducing smog, and a call to action. She has included her faith in her call to action, since she is speaking to a religious audience. She ultimately relates her faith to the the theme of community.

Inter-religious Interest

In response to our many mornings spent praying for the nations and earlier units on Judaism and Islam this year, this student studied the core beliefs and worship methods of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. She articulated that “learning about other religions helps us to learn more about other cultures and people who God created.” Ultimately in the context of other cultures, this student gained a better understanding and appreciation of the teachings of her faith.

Purposeful Patterns in Pokemon

I have had many a conversation debating the greatest Pokemon with this student. In this project, he doubled the amount of detail he included last month, and described how many Pokemon are actually based on the animals of the natural world. For example, he explained that Mewtwo is actually based on a Kangaroo, but that Mew is based on a cat. By studying the ways that Pokemon’s creators engineered Pokemon based on natural creatures, this student gained a deeper appreciation for God’s diligence and creativity in forming the diversity of life on Earth.

My favorite pokemon is Ditto, in case anyone was wondering.

Where do we go from here?

This month in class, students will be starting to explore the Civil Rights movement. One student from this group wasted no time in telling me that she would like to “learn a little more deeply, like writing an essay, a kahoot, or powerpoint” to understand the ethical roots of racism through a religious lens. As a result of these Inquiry projects, it was greatly satisfying to see her specifically ask to dive deeper into this topic, and suggest some potential methods we’ve used to do so. With the blessings of my colleagues, students will brush past a surface level understanding of Civil Rights to understand key tactics, leaders, and ethics.

As various students have wondered about the role of religious leaders in the Civil rights movement, I plan to select 4-5 prominent religious leaders and discuss their stances on the Civil Rights movement (spoiler: some were supportive, but many were not). We will examine quotes of denominations speeches or public comments on the Civil Rights movement, and students will even do an activity where they have to match the name and intended outcome of various forms of direct action (for example, sit ins, boycotts, freedom rides, blockades, lunch counter protests, etc).

At the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the diversity of tactics employed by Civil Rights leaders, and identify their outcomes
  • Use Christian teachings of nonviolence to compare and contrast nonviolent civil disobedience with militancy
  • From reflection, draw independent personal conclusions on the role of Christians should play in racial politics, and the methods Christians should employ

In February as many students transition back to the building, students will be spending our Inquiry project designing group inquiry projects for March. In March, 3 more students will join us, boosting our number to 13 (of 20) students total. As a group, students will select 1-3 themes that they will explore as a jigsaw, each student taking one individual component. While it seems very likely students will continue to purpose environmentalism (something they first studied in depth in first grade), I suspect some might be interested in the history of toys or some other theme.

Regardless of what they choose to explore, I’ve gotten approval from my colleagues to ultimately support ALL students to do Inquiry Projects in the final months of our school year! I am confident that by crafting a jigsaw of different topics with students for March, we will be able to continue to build a web of collective interests that will catalyze their love of learning into next school year.

Religious Order Project

In the month of January, my third and fourth grade students learned about the history of faithful men and women who joined Religious orders. We as a grade level decided that it would be much more exciting for students to see the ways that key church figures have shaped history INSTEAD of focusing primarily on the knitty-gritty roles and responsibilities of church structure. I am confident that my students will eventually be able to distinguish what makes certain roles like Bishop or Cardinal unique within the Catholic church, especially since students at our school have been able to host a conversation with the newly-elected Cardinal Gregory over Zoom. As students get used to seeing these church leaders as friendly faces, focusing on religious orders’ impact on the world allows students to appreciate the legacy of the community of saints they’ve been born into.

Check out these easy to read infographics from Catholic-Link!

For better and worse, Religious orders were designed to respond to allow people to seek God as they responded to the unique challenges of their day. From the first first monastic communities in the deserts of Egypt (313-400 AD) to the evolution of the today’s universities from the monasteries of the Middle Ages, Religious orders have shaped Western culture in indelible ways. Throughout centuries, religious orders have developed schools, hospitals, guest houses, farms, and programs for the poor that eventually gave birth to the modern Nonprofit sector. Check out this timeline to see how religious orders have changed Western culture.

Check out this video for more information about Consecrated Life throughout the ages!

Prior to starting this project, I also spent time talking with students about Disability rights within the church, and the faith of my friends at L’Arche DC. We discussed how people can love and pursue God’s call on their lives regardless of their physical or cognitive ability. We loved learning about The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb Convent in LeBlanc, France, and how many religious sisters there with Down Syndrome are passionately following the Lord Jesus.

Challenge: Designing a Religious Order

My colleague took the lead on the facilitation of this project! Similar to our Holy Trinity Action Cards project, students studied and compared religious orders to understand their unique differences. THEN, students were challenged to design their own religious order, based on their own interests and pressing needs they see in our world.

For their religious order, 3rd and 4th grade students had to include and explain their orders’:

  • Name
  • Motto
  • Habit (clothing)
  • 3 Values
  • Coat of Arms

My colleague also designed this handy rubric for students to use to self-evaluate!

After students completed their projects, they spent about 45 minutes of class time presenting their projects to one another in Zoom Breakout rooms.

As a teacher, this project was especially meaningful to me, because it was a chance to see how the Holy Spirit was moving on students’ hearts to highlight particular concerns. I was impressed by how deeply the projects connected their personal values to their faith. While I was focusing elsewhere, the Holy Spirit had snuck in to teach them a variety of things about the topics already on their hearts.

Unsurprisingly, several common themes and values emerged. Check them out below!

Stewardship of Animals

In projects related to the stewardship of animals, many students suggested members should do service at animal shelters.

Some students connected their passion to the teachings of Saint Francis:

Humorous and easily-washed Habits (clothing) were vital:

Students took our many conversations about human’s Genesis 1 mandate to steward the Earth very seriously:

Children United in Jesus

Kids’ Authority as Sons and Daughters of God

“Children should feel like Royalty”

The importance of Community

Obedience and Love for Family

Love for our Enemies

Other specific Causes

Helping the sick!
Loving our Seniors!

Conclusion

It was such a beautiful thing to see our 3rd and 4th graders connect their passions to the history of passionate believers of the past. I am excited to see how God will continue to guide students through their interests, and give them wisdom and courage to pursue their own callings. This month, I will be reading a book called, Water from a Deep Well by Gerald L. Sittser, to deepen my own understanding of the many ways Christians have shaped the world from Jesus to the present AND how religious life has changed over time. You are more than welcome to join me!

In Christ,

Haley

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