Archive for November, 2014


November 27, 2014 Comments Off on LETS START A MOVEMENT! WITH YOUNG CHILDREN! General




I want to give a shout out to the National Council for the Social Studies for another great annual conference in Boston! It provided those who attended with the chance to revisit the ideals of citizenship and the daily opportunities that we teachers have to inspire children with the hope and deep responsibility of democracy. Thanks to those who came to my session LET’S START A MOVEMENT: CIVICS-BASED SOCIAL ACTION FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. I enjoyed your thoughts on the concerns you have as citizens and educators, and appreciated the opportunity to share my ideas about getting young children interested in the idea of social movements for justice and the common good.

How do we do it? First we need to be sure that we know what a movement is! As indicated in my most recent blog, it is not charity (such as a Thanksgiving food bank) or a brief action for social good (such as writing letters to a fast food chain to encourage more nutritious choices). These are important and helpful experiences for children, but they are missing many elements of a real movement.

What is a movement? It is collective action on the part of a group of united people who stand up, speak out, and speak for justice and freedom in the context of the need for social change. Our minds might turn immediately to large historical movements, but I believe that powerful movements (however small) can take place whenever and wherever a group of people express dissent for a status quo that fails to respect human dignity, human rights, and human needs.


A movement is unique because it starts in the hearts and minds of citizens. It is a grassroots effort that emerges from compassion, outrage, or deep concern for some form of human need or human rights. A movement is a public action based on the right of citizens to exercise their freedom to assemble and to speak openly and truly about their concerns. If you look at the history of any movement you will see how it liberated “ordinary people” to bring out the best in themselves – courage, great intelligence, and diligent effort. Movements are self-actualizing for individuals because they can emerge from a sense of hopelessness or inertia to the belief that they can make a difference. All those in the group can encourage and strengthen one another. People move from learned civic-helplessness (“nothing we do makes a difference” “you just create trouble for yourself and nothing comes of it” “nobody listens anyhow) to a sense of self-efficacy and an assertive stance on “liberty and justice for all.”

What does this mean for children? Our child population in the United States is inundated with consumerist messages urging them to believe that buying things is of the utmost importance. All our children experience some of the forms of “nastiness” that exist in our society – a “me first” attitude that rationalizes a lack of awareness of and courtesy to others. Added to these general problems are the poverty, bias, and forms of inequality that undermine the lives of many of our children. We cannot lose hope for these citizens of tomorrow! One of our best tools for strengthening our children is citizenship education focused on empowerment and action. Children need the opportunity to make sense of their lives and to see the roles they might play in the communities in which they live. Children, like their teachers, need “praxis” – the chance to put their ideas, values, and beliefs into action. It is never too early for a child to understand the responsibilities of citizenship – the balance between having rights and honoring the rights of everyone else. More importantly, it is never too early for a child to see that caring people can come together to discuss concerns and problems and decide on a powerful course of action.

At the conference, I suggested that movements should start in the community of the classroom asked those in my session to consider the following scenario:

Let’s consider a first grade classroom with a somewhat mobile child population. About a quarter of the children in the class move in or out during the school year. Some of the children are in the area shelter for the homeless, some are children of medical professionals in a nearby hospital who transition frequently, and some move in and out for a number of reasons. There are distinct differences in socioeconomic status in the classroom, and the more affluent children tend to socialize together in and outside the classroom. You, the first grade teacher, want to help the children to start a movement called fairness and friendship in our classroom community.


I suggested that the teacher might begin with the powerfully beautiful book (which I read to the audience) called Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis (2012). This book helps young readers to reflect on unkind and hurtful behaviors toward those who are different from themselves, to then identify similar problems or challenges in their own classroom. The children might raise issues like needing to have the courage reach out in friendship to those who are marginalized or excluded in their classroom communities. (Courage would be needed for the main character in the book because of peer pressure to exclude a new girl who appears to be economically poor).

Using the idea of culture circles described by Dr. Mariana Souto Manning in her book Multicultural Approaches in the Early Childhood Classroom (2013), the teacher could guide the children in discussion as they identify themes and problems in the book, offer multiple perspectives on the cause and nature of the problems, identify similar themes and problems in their own classroom community, and then decide together on praxis –a group movement in their own classroom to strengthen kindness and inclusiveness. The children might suggest “ambassadors” who are selected weekly to assist and guide any newcomers to the classroom, weekly helpers who have lunch with new people and sit next to them in class, words that everyone should use when new children come to the room (“Welcome we are glad you are here with us”) and a group agreement to be sure to include every child who wishes to join in any playground games. They can also agree on friendly ways to remind one another about the movement when necessary. Then they can implement their movement – and discuss it a several intervals to evaluate success or needed improvements.

Once children have experienced engagement in their own relevant classroom movement, they are more prepared to engage with understanding in movements for others – possibly a movement to improve the playground for all the children in the school or a movement to help keep their local library open. What is important is that the teacher call it a movement, focus on the cognitive and moral work of a child-sized movement, and reinforce the idea that groups of people – however small – can work together to understand, talk about, and change social problems for the better.

There are many wonderful children’s books that help to explain movements. A terrific one is Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage (Claire Rudolph Murphy, 2011). One of the best aspects of this book, as I see it, is that the California referendum for suffrage in 1896 was defeated – in spite of the leadership of Susan B. Anthony and the work of many others to support the movement. This is a fantastic opportunity to reinforce the idea that the effort is an accomplishment in and of itself, that failure to meet your entire goal does not mean that goals have not been met, and that we must be resilient and keep working hard to make our community and our society better for everyone. After all, fifteen years later in 1911, the referendum was on the ballot and California became the sixth and largest state to support women’s suffrage.  In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said, “failure is impossible!” — but it took hard work, patience, and recovery from setbacks to meet her goal. This is a good message for children!

Try a movement with your own group of children! You will find it exciting – and so will they.



Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children





I cannot wait to get to the NCSS annual conference from November 21-23 in Boston! This is a wonderful yearly source of information and inspiration for me – an outstanding conference which offers a tremendous opportunity to hear the words of excellent speakers devoted to human rights and civic responsibility. If you will be at the conference in Boston, you are very welcome to come to my session called LET’S START A MOVEMENT! CIVICS-BASED SOCIAL ACTION FOR YOUNG CHILDREN! It will be on Friday November 21 from 3:10 – 4:05 PM in Room Liberty B (session ID: 1114).

A movement with young children? Really? Absolutely! The essence of civic education at any age is the development of a vision of personal responsibility for the public good. So many people I meet in my personal and professional life seem to have what I call a sense of “learned civic-helplessness.” They question their own power as citizens or criticize those who raise important public issues but “don’t tell us what to do or how to do it.” Here is my question – why stand by passively waiting for someone to tell you what to do? As good citizens we can look around where we live and where we work, and see things that must be done to enhance opportunity, liberty, and equality for others. We have the ability to envision solutions – so let’s start a movement!

What is a movement? It is collective action on the part of people who stand up, speak out, and speak for justice and freedom in the context of the need for social change. Our minds might turn immediately to large historical movements, but from my perspective powerful movements (however small) can take place whenever and wherever a group of people express dissent for a status quo that fails to respect human dignity, human rights, and human needs.

A movement for adults should not be confused with charity – it is not (for example) the organization of contributions to a food bank (as important as they are!) or a letter writing campaign to a fast food chain to argue for healthier options (as important as that is!). A movement might start with recognition, concern, and even anger about the injustice of hunger and malnourishment in a community – the absence of a substantial reasonably-priced grocery store to balance a proliferation of fast food chains and overpriced small stores with limited healthy food options. This movement would not start with answers but rather with questions and well- informed determination to bring significant problems of food insecurity to public light. It would be through the conversations and commitments of the people involved that a vision would evolve. No one can tell these concerned citizens exactly what to do! It is through their work together in their own community that a solution can be sought and articulated. Once the movement begins, this group of people is likely to encounter criticism or resistance or misunderstanding of their purposes  – they are going to have to be resilient and creative. The barriers may be great, the outcomes may be limited, but something can be done!

Can young children start a movement? Of course they can (in their own way) – with the support and guidance of civic-minded teachers who design the educational experience in the context of civic education. Their movement can start with the understanding that citizens can and should identify problems and change things for the better. A very important underlying message is that they must make a decision to speak and to act, and they must understand that speaking up and acting are important contributions in and of themselves. Let’s steer children away early from learned civic helplessness – the “it won’t do any good” frame of mind. Children need to see their power to create change — and their movements can be formed in the context of social studies civic education in their own classrooms and schools.

Want to know more? Stay tuned for my next blog after the conference. And if you are in Boston for NCSS, please stop by my presentation to say hello. I would really enjoy meeting and talking with you there!


Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children



November 2, 2014 Comments Off on ARE YOU HEADING FOR NAEYC IN DALLAS? General

Dallas Texas

One of my very favorite annual conferences is held by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is so exciting to see so many early childhood educators gathered together to share knowledge and advocate for children. I am very happy to be presenting at the conference again this year.

Are you headed for NAEYC in Dallas from November 5-8 ? I would really love to see you at my session titled HOW CAN I BE FAIR TO EVERYONE WHEN THE KIDS ARE ALL SO DIFFERENT? USING THE NAEYC ETHICAL CODE TO SUPPORT EQUAL TREATMENT OF DIVERSE CHILDREN IN YOUR CLASSROOM. It will be on Thursday November 6 from 1:00 – 2:30 PM in Room C140 of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. We’ll take an exciting look at some case studies that provide the opportunity to think critically about the application of the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment to children in different circumstances. I will be emphasizing as always that we can never be absolutely sure that our actions are ethical – but when we ask ourselves the question “is this ethical?” and then reflect on the code, we are much more likely to be making the best choices for the children in our care.  Ethics are never boring — they provide us with a dynamic structure for critical thinking about multiple perspectives on every day challenges and problems in our classrooms.  It is fun to get new insights into ways that ethical codes really can be applied in practice.

I would also love to see you at 3:00 PM on the same day at the TEACHERS COLLEGE PRESS BOOTH #1804 in the conference exhibit hall. That’s where I will be signing copies of my new book STANDING UP FOR SOMETHING EVERYDAY: ETHICS AND JUSTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD CLASSROOMS right after my November 6 session – from 3:00 – 3:30 PM. Please stop by to say hi!

Whenever I think of Dallas in November, I recall the terrible day – November 22nd, 1963—when President John F. Kennedy died of gunshot wounds in that city. Looking back, as sad as it was, I think that was the day when I and so many people around my age made a heartfelt decision to try to make a difference in the lives of others.  There was no way I could know in 1963 that I would become a teacher and an author.  But, as I head for Dallas,  I am so glad that I dedicated my life to children and so excited to meet and talk with others who made the same choice. Our work is never easy —  but it is so important!   I am grateful for the opportunity that this conference provides for us all to be inspired and renewed.