Students as Global Citizens and Advocates for Social Justice
The written word carries a power that many have grown to adopt in their everyday lives. Sure, we may send a tweet, a text, or create a Facebook post, at times, but are we really challenging each other to write about the social issues of the day? Some may take this luxury of committing words to paper for granted—especially in a quickly advancing technological world—but each and every day people are challenging the world with their ideas and solutions! As adults, we’ve been addressing many of the popular social causes for quite a long time. How do we instill the same sense of social responsibility in the youth? Does it matter if they take up a social cause or not? From the perspective of a poet and literature instructor, the best way I’ve learned to get my students involved with their world is by encouraging them to document their experiences through poetry and creative writing!
Today’s youth are fundamentally connected with everything that goes on around them, which makes their connections with the global community much stronger. For example, technology has systematically saturated the lives of youth with the latest trends in fashion, media, news, as well as with a multitude of social issues that may or may not affect their lives. We often hear about difficult issues, like improving healthcare or education, confronting cyber-bullying, and creating equal opportunities. So, it’s extremely important for young people to understand how these issues are addressed, and—more importantly—how they can get involved and help solve some of these issues! One way I’ve been able to get students involved is by helping them identify what they would like to see happen in the world. I stress to my young people that Mahatma Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This old, wise maxim is self-explanatory, but it’s difficult to apply when you don’t know where to begin. I find it helpful to open up a discussion about empathy, shared histories, and our responsibilities to creating a positive, sustainable world. I find that encouraging students to be global citizens is a great way to get them thinking about their relationship with humanity. After I get my students thinking about the world, outside of their individual experiences, I allow them to research the social issues that they’re passionate about. I pull the best writing out of them by allowing them to develop their own, unique understanding of what it means to contribute to the advancement of the human race.
Once students have identified the issue they’re interested in, I allow them to choose a form of creative writing to help them delve deeper into the issue. Many choose to compose a poem or write a short story, while others may choose to write a short memoir or journal entry about an experience. Allowing students to discuss the issues of the day, most times, will lead them to thoroughly understanding which social issues are most important to people.
The list of social issues is long, complicated, and diverse. These issues concern people from every part of the world, so it’s extremely important to allow students to choose what’s important to them. Instructors should present the issues that are relevant and age appropriate to their respective student populations.
Addressing the challenges of the world doesn’t have to be approached the same way. Using creative writing and the power of the written word is just as powerful as attending fundraisers, community meetings, or even donating time to a senior citizen’s organization. Encouraging students and young people to be active, global citizens will guarantee that each generation will continue to build socially sustainable systems. If the youth are truly the future, then we are obligated to encourage them to be the next leaders of this constantly transforming world.