What are UCV kids doing with Social and Environmental Justice?
Justice work is integral to Unitarian Universalism; for many of us justice work—whether social or environmental—is spiritual work. When we take a good look at living the seven principles, we find that they call us to act for justice, equity, compassion, and democracy and we are called to take interdependence seriously.
We bring these values of justice, equity, compassion, and democracy into our children and youth programs through stories, games, activities, discussion, and outdoor explorations. Our upper elementary students worked with the CUC’s Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation Reflection Guide last year. We are looking for more opportunities to build relationship and learn about our indigenous neighbors. The Harry and UU Summer Theatre camp group chose to focus on “Waste” as the Horcrux (societal ill) they would fight, and we brought the Zero Waste Challenge to class in October under the theme of “Abundance.” We are continuing the challenge this month with “Courage.”
The UCV Youth Group is currently exploring a focus for an Environmental Justice action project. Zero Waste and fighting the pipeline expansion are top of their list. Stay tuned for more information from our Youth!
Justice Work Philosophy
My philosophy regarding doing social justice with children and youth is evolving. Sometimes we adults have a passion to bring knowledge and awareness of big issues to our kids; we want to make sure they are culturally, socially, and environmentally aware. I certainly have had this tendency with my own kids. However, I have recently noticed a sense of overwhelm in some of our middle elementary students. There’s a tendency to joke about wrecking the world which seems to be defensive humour in the face of very real problems. Adults are failing to protect the world, how are kids supposed to help? Why should they take on that burden? Where is the hope?
Erin Leckie, from Be the Change, sent me a 1998 article from Yes! Magazine by David Soebel after I talked to her about kids and hope. I was inspired by Mr. Soebel’s perspective. He has important points to keep in mind as we feel excitement around bringing justice work into our programming with children and youth.
What Shapes an Activist?
“If we prematurely ask children to deal with problems beyond their understanding and control, then I think we cut them off from the possible sources of their strength.”
“… there are healthy ways to foster environmentally aware, empowered students. One way to find the answer is to figure out what contributes to the development of environmental values in adults. What happened in the childhoods of environmentalists to make them grow up with strong ecological values? A handful of studies like this have been conducted, and when Louise Chawla of Kentucky State University reviewed them for her article, “Children’s Concern for the Natural Environment” in Children’s Environment Quarterly, she found a striking pattern. Most environmentalists attributed their commitment to a combination of two sources: “many hours spent outdoors in a keenly remembered wild or semi-wild place in childhood or adolescence, and an adult who taught respect for nature.” Not one of the conservationists surveyed explained his or her dedication as a reaction against exposure to an ugly environment.
What a simple solution. No rainforest curriculum, no environmental action, just opportunities to be in the natural world with modeling by a responsible adult.” –David Soebel, 1998 YES! Magazine
My takeaway goals for social and environmental justice with children and youth are:
- Early Childhood: foster awe, wonder, and connection with the natural world/real people
- Middle Childhood: Explore wider–neighborhood, city, learn about the world/people
- Early Adolescence and up: Take initiative for Social Action–saving the world
Within this outline, any idea for action that a child brings up independently is worth exploring and supporting. We believe in our ideas and act on them, that is our 5th principle after all!
Director of Religious Exploration with Children and Youth