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Haslett High School

Raise Your Voice: A Social Justice Experiment


I Am My Brother’s Keeper


This unit is for 9thgraders. The only location requirement is that the class be taught
in a developed nation. The message of the unit is universal. For my own
visualization purposes, the class intended is Mrs. Schnarr’s 9th grade English at
Haslett HS, 6th hour.

The context of the unit is that our class has just completed an identity unit. The
anchor text for this unit was Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and the main
message the students were to take from this unit was to understand that formation
of an identity takes time and is dependent on some levels to the environment in
which one exists. The unit assignment was to write a personal narrative piece titled
“Who Am I?”, which required students to reflect on their personal opinion of
themselves, as well as explore/analyze the influence their environment plays in
their development of personal identity.


A critical lesson to be learned by any of my prospective students is that they are

extremely fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to receive a quality
education. Possession of a sound education is one of the most valuable forms of
social capital, allowing countless opportunities both professionally and personally.
With the central goal of a liberal arts education being to produce quality citizens,
both locally and globally, it is essential that my students are exposed to real people
who will never be as fortunate as they are. From this mentality, the goal of this unit
is to educate my class on the great amount of people in the world who find
themselves in hopeless and dire situations. Such situations are not exclusive to
physical poverty and pain; sufferers of emotional and psychological hardships will
be examined as well. Through learning about people who are overlooked by society
for whatever reason, I will seek to produce an educated class committed to doing
social justice by giving such voiceless people a voice. The goal of this unit is to
inspire students to be leaders in their communities and active defenders of
humanity and justice, which I hope to allow them to practically manifest in their
cumulative unit project.

Key Questions:

1. What is my responsibility to help others in this world?

2. Who has a voice in my world?
3. What is my voice?
4. What injustice exists in my own community? In the United States? In the
5. Why is there injustice in my community (local and global)?
6. Who has given me a voice in my life? How did they do this? How did getting
a voice make me feel?
7. Can my community (local and global) be better? What is “better”? How can I
do this?

Michigan Teaching Benchmarks:

1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.3, 2.4

Rationale for the entire unit:

A main goal of my approach to English curriculum and objectives is to give students

the tools, ability, and desire to be contributing members of their community.
Community is defined as local (the city of Haslett) and global (Michigan, the United
States, Earth). It is the role of the English teacher, I feel, to instill in his students a
passion and commitment to making their world—our world—a better place to call
home. There are so many ways in which to improve the world, and this philosophy
is not confined to the walls of the English class. I feel a hug responsibility of the
high school science teacher is to educate his students on how to be a better citizen
of the world. With this, I look to have the science teacher teach students about how
to live an environmentally sound and friendly lifestyle. In English, language and
communication is the key. With this in mind, this unit looks to use language skills
(reading, writing, research, communication skills) to give the lesser appreciated
members of society a voice. The goal of this unit is to educate students on how to
be an active “voice-giver” as well as inspire students to be committed to social
justice, which can be accomplished at exploring injustices in both the fictional and
non-fiction realms. Such passion for social justice is also accomplished by opening
students’ eyes to their many blessings in life, with the main focus being that their
economic and social association in the world gives them something that so many
people never have: a voice. From this realization, as well as playing on their
instilled passion for social justice, the students are given the opportunity to create
positive change in their world by giving a voice to someone in need. This
philosophy is applied to the unit project.


Students will be able to…

– Observe social injustices in history and fiction.

– Explore the common theme of “giving a voice” through several forms of
– Observe how an author gives voice to a subject without one.
– Analytically explore social injustice in their own community.
– Use research skills to explore and address a social issue.
– Identify themselves as members of a local and global community.
– Bring awareness to an injustice through using a form of communication
(writing, film, speech, etc.)
– Describe a situation of social injustice and offer a possible solution.

Anchor Text:

– Hemmingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Triad Grafton. London,

Use of anchor text:

Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Seawill serve as our anchor text for this
unit. There are a few key reasons why this text is chosen to bear the load of such a
meaningful and necessary unit for high schoolers. While reading the text, students
will be introduced to a character (Santiago) who is depressed, unlucky, and
disregarded by society. We will analyze how the occupation of a fisherman is
regarded with contempt by people in the book, as well as by modern society. From
this, we will discuss the many occupations that are snuffed at by our own society, as
well as other types of social groups that are given a bad rap by the society we live

Once the class becomes aware of the depressing life Santiago lives, we will then
explore how Hemmingway, through the power of the pen, gives voice to Santiago.
We will explore how Hemmingway glorifies Santiago in the same way that Santiago
glorifies Joe DiMaggio. Students will be able to see how Hemmingway’s novel gives
a voice on several different levels. At its most basic level, the author gives a voice
to Santiago. A step back shows that the glorification of fishing portrays this
profession in a positive light to the public, thus inspiring those who identify with this
trade. Finally, Hemmingway’s public glorification of the humble and meek Santiago
stands as a clear example of how a fortunate person can use their abilities to
positively give a voice to someone in need. Such an act allows the voiceless to
develop a positive and confident identity, which is shown through Santiago’s
personal pride at the end of the novel.

Unit Assignment:

The unit assignment gives students freedom to choose any media to accomplish a
single personal goal: Give someone a voice. Students are required to think on the
different ways in which we have observed people without a voice given a chance to
be heard. From this, their assignment is to give one person whom they feel is
voiceless a voice. There is no restriction to this assignment. The chosen voiceless
person can be a personal relationship, overlooked historical figure, fictional
character, or even someone who is deceased. Students are encouraged to use
whatever form of media they choose to complete this project, with each student
having the chance to present their project to the class.

This lesson allows students to put into action what they have been studying for the
entire unit, as well as get a personal encounter with the actions necessary for
making a positive change in their world. Students will take away from this
assignment (and unit) a deeper understanding of the importance of not overlooking
any member of our global community. The ethics and morality that go along with
this mentality of being a “citizen of the world” allow students to grow through
respect and knowledge, as well as instilling in them a commitment to doing justice.
Week 1 (Monday-Wednesday): The poor (literature)

As a class we will read OMAS and discuss different ways Hemmingway gives
Santiago a voice, as well as fishermen and all occupants of humble professions.

Topics during our close readings include:

– How Hemmingway’s background of Santiago allow the reader to create a

relationship with the fisherman.
– How Santiago’s humble and hard-working character portrays all men of
his profession in a positive light.
– How Santiago’s glorification of Joe DiMaggio mirrors Hemmingway’s
glorification of the profession of fisherman.
– How the great marlin Santiago catches represents the respect and dignity
a profession like a fisherman requires (it is elusive).

Week 1 (Thursday): Using our voice

Class begins with a journal entry. Students are to answer the following question in
their notebooks: “What is my voice?”

Students write for 10 minutes on this prompt, with no insight given by the teacher.
We as a class then go outside to the parking lot that overlooks Marsh Rd. (weather
permitting). With the notebooks in hand, I encourage each student to consider what
they wrote about in regards to their own voice, then instruct them to look at each
car pass by and consider the voice of each person driving by. Pick out one person
that drives by and write something about them just from the small observation and
interaction you have with them. This should take 10-15 minutes, then lead class
back into the classroom.

Students are then given the unit assignment. We run over the handout briefly,
which requires each student to give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.
Students are then assigned to reflect on what we just did outside…we gave people
we didn’t know a voice. This is a “spark note” version of what we are trying to do
for this assignment. Students are informed that the next two weeks we will be
exploring different ways in which people gave voices to others people in need. Just
as we gave voices to the folks on marsh Rd. passing through our community, each
student will pick a subject in need and give that person a voice.
Class will end with a follow-up to the journal assignment, where students write down
initial ideas of people who may need help being heard. It is essential to inform the
students that the subject they give voice to can be real or fictional.

Week 1 (Friday): The prisoner (music)

Texts used:

– Cash, Johnny. “Folsom Prison Blues”. Folsom Prison Blues. Sun Records.
December, 1955.
– Cash, Johnny. “Man in Black”. Man in Black. Colombia Records. 1971
– Dylan, Bob and Levy, Jacques. “Hurricane”. Desire. ColombiaRecords.
November, 1975.


We will examine how famous musicians use their talent and popularity to speak the
message that most people cannot. The class will consist of listening to the song,
reading its lyrics, and then discussing the following:

– Who is addressed? Who is the audience/who is being spoken for?

– How is the group given a voice by this music?
– What is the intent and effectiveness of the song?

Dylan’s “Hurricane” tells the story of Hurricane Carter, a promising young African-
American boxer who was framed for a murder and wrongly convicted of the crime.
Racism had a strong hand in this sentence, yet the timeframe when Hurricane lived
did not see social justice exist between blacks and whites. Dylan uses his
songwriting ability and fame to tell the story of Hurricane, allowing the world to hear
the unfair story of the man…something he could not do on his own.

Johnny Cash has a reputation for representing the working-class man, as well as the
men and women of the world that society looked down on. Such is the case in his
song “Folsom Prison Blues”, which publically voices the depression and hardships
prisoners face. Cash truly took on the role of voicing the struggle and identity of
prisoners when he preformed his famous concert for the inmates of San Quentin
prison. Though society shunned these men as outcasts not fit for civil interaction,
Cash saw the humanity in all men and women, inspiring him to voice the lives of
these overlooked people.

Cash emphasizes this mentality in his ballad “Man in Black” as he discusses his
rationale for wearing black. This consistent wardrobe choice conveys to the world
that there is injustice and pain going on all over the world. Through this song, as
well as his consistent black attire, Cash takes on the role as the representative and
voice of those who struggle and suffer hardships, giving such people a figure to look
up to and maintain hope. Johnny Cash is a prime example of someone who gives a
voice to the voiceless.


See handout

Rationale for assignment:

This assignment allows students to start to explore how different forms of media are
used to give a voice to those who need one. This mini-project allows students to
explore media that they find interesting (their own music collection) and explore
this idea. Also, by presenting their chosen song and reasoning for choosing it to the
class, it gives them a taste of what is required for the final unit project.

Week 2 (Monday-Tuesday):

Class presentation on their assignment over the weekend.

Week 2 (Wednesday): The worker (art)

Texts used:

– Rivera, Diego. “Detroit Industry”. Viewed at

– “Local Choices: Help support our farm workers with Merced County’s
Binational Health Week”. <>


Students are exposed on this day to a famous piece of artwork by Diego Rivera
titled “Detroit Industry”. Accompanied by a brief history of the mural, students will
be able to observe how Rivera’s inspired mural brings meaning and pride to the
professional commitment of Detroit’s automobile assembly-plant workers. Though
this mural was painted with this specific profession in mind, we will discuss how the
hard behind-the-scenes workers all around the world are commonly overlooked, as
well as grossly underpaid. Artwork like Rivera’s is drastically sparse in art galleries
and public walls, seeing as there are so many factory workers around the world.

Along the lines of the Rivera mural, we will also explore the identity of the migrant
farm worker. Appreciation of this facet of humanity will be mediated through our
exploration of the event popularized on the website above. We will explore the
painting shown on this website, and discuss the similarities between it and Rivera’s
Detroit mural. This will lead our discussion to the similarities between farm hands
and factory workers, and the common lack of appreciation shared by the two
groups. It is necessary to point out to my students that the food we ate at lunch
would not be on our plates if not for the tireless work of countless faceless workers.

The students should leave this class with a greater knowledge and appreciation of
the manual laborer. Also, students will be able to see how the efforts of the
organizers of the website, as well as Rivera, give these workers a voice so that we
can recognize their presence and appreciate their struggle.

The questions posed to the students as we explore and discuss these examples
follow the same guidelines as the ones I pose for the music analysis lesson:

– Who is addressed? Who is the audience/who is being spoken for?

– How is the group given a voice by this artwork/movement?
– What is the intent and effectiveness?

Week 2 (Thursday): The wrongfully accused (fiction/theatre)

Texts used:

– Maguire, Gregory. Wicked. Harper Collins. New York, 2008.


We return to fiction on Day Nine by exploring the novel that is now a popular
musical: Maguire’s Wicked. It is essential to look at this story to explore how giving
a voice can be done factiously, as well as to fictitious characters. As a class, we will
initially go over the story of The Wizard of Ozand briefly look at how the Wicked
Witch of the West is portrayed only in a negative and evil light. From this, I will lead
a discussion about how it is unfair and unjust to only show someone’s negative
characteristics, as is done for the Witch of the West in Oz. This fictional example
will allow students to develop a better understanding of how some people do not
have a voice because society has a preconceived opinion on them. This can be
related to the homeless, prisoners, protesters, and common worker. Wickedallows
students to see what happens when someone in such a preconceived stereotype is
given a voice and allowed to defend herself. Though exploring the story presented
in this piece of “response fiction”, students are able to see the necessity of giving
those without a voice a chance to speak. This case study also allows students to
understand the importance of allowing someone to speak on their own behalf, as
well as the injustice that preconceived opinions perpetuate.

Week 2 (Friday): Final unit brainstorming/active participation

**This is the most important lesson of the unit because it shows students an active
way in which they can participate in bettering their world and giving someone a
voice. If the lesson goes well, I am not opposed to bringing the students back to
the computer lab on Monday to further explore the options that offers. If
this is the case, I will either eliminate one day of peer review/discussion, or simply
push the whole unit back one day and make compromises on my next unit.

Texts used:


The rationale for all of the days is to show students different ways in which people
give needy people a voice. Each day we explore a different way in which this is
accomplished, so as to spark different ideas in the students for ways in which they
can choose to give someone a voice in their unit project.

For today, class will meet in the computer lab. Today is a critical day of the unit
because the material we cover today will allow students to see one way in which
they can give someone in need a voice in their global community. At the computer
lab, I will introduce students to the website This website is run by a
revolutionary non-profit organization that looks to help entrapraneurers in different
developing nations through micro-loans for businesses. Any visitor to the website
can view a long list of needy people from around the world who need money
donations for multiple reasons. Some reasons for need of money include to buy a
cow and start up a small restaurantin a developing nation. The beauty of
www.kiva.orgis that anyone who wishes to submit money to one of their many
causes is providing a loan…not a donation. With this in mind, any donation to the
organization goes directly to the party in need, and then the receivingparty does its
best part to pay the loan back over time. Rather than have to deal with interest,
the loan provided by a donator to is interest-free, so as to allow the
third-world entrepreneur to start up a successful business without bearing the
burden of bank-loans and interest.

This lesson provides a quality example of how they can give a voice to someone
truly in need. As a class we will explore the main idea of, as well as
discuss how its existence gives hope and a voice to many people who are
legitimately deserving. After I go over the website’s structure on the SMARTboard,
the students will then spend the rest of class time looking at different stories on the
website that are looking for business micro-loans. This day is critical to the overall
unit because it offers students a clear example of how they can use their own
fortune to aid in the betterment of someone else’s life. Also, the prospect of
funding one of’s micro-loans is an acceptable way to complete the unit
project, so it can get the ball rolling for students who are struggling to find a focus
area at this time.
Week 3 (Monday-Tuesday): The protester (non-fiction)

Texts used:

– The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. “Teaching With

Documents: Court Documents Related to Martin Luther King, Jr., and
Memphis Sanitation Workers”
– Photo of sanitation workers claiming human dignity from


These two days serve to introduce students to the commonly overlooked individual
who stands up for the rights of those who have no voice…yet on many levels
struggles to have a voice of his own.

We then take a critical look at the famous historical protest of the sanitation workers
of Memphis. This protest, the first major event led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
sought to bring justice and public recognition to the sanitation workers in Memphis,
Tennessee. Exploration of this case will have the students read government records
of the protest, as well as explore the build-up that inspired the protest, all of which
are found on the website above. Critical analysis of this case will also require the
class to examine the photo of the sanitation workers holding their famous protest
slogan, “I am a man.”

Exploration of this case provides an excellent example of how one educated and
persuasive man, Dr. King, can positively use his abilities to bring social justice to a
deserving group of voiceless people.

Again, discussion and assessment will be dictated by the following questions:

– Who is addressed? Who is the audience/who is being spoken for?

– How is the group given a voice by this example?
– What is the intent and effectiveness?

Week 3 (Wednesday-Friday): The homeless (documentary)

Text used:

– Kicking It documentary by ESPN Films. Directed by Susan Koch and Jeff

Warner. Viewed at <>

Wednesday through Friday of week three are devoted to viewing the text Kicking
Itwhich tells the story of the 2009 Homeless World Cup. The event is funded by
various charitable organizations, and it provides an athletic arena where homeless
men from around the world can feel important and accepted. The documentary
chronicles several nations from their selection process to their performance at the
Cup. Also, the audience is shown the lives and stories of several of the participants.
A really interesting story within the documentary (though all the player’s stories are
extremely interesting and eye-opening)is that of the Russian homeless team. The
members of the team are homeless because they were not able to obtain the proper
documentation after the fall of the Soviet Union. Though their country does not
recognize them as citizens, the Homeless World Cup allows these overlooked me to
represent their entire nation through sport. The Russians are successful throughout
the tournament and go on the win the Cup, which brings media attention to them
and pride to their nation…the same nation that does not recognize them as citizens.

I feel the class will really enjoy this film because it draws on the human spirit and
captivates its audience with a great story of charity and humanity. Conceptually, we
view the film to see how the organizers of the tournament give a voice to a widely
overlooked part of humanity: the homeless. All of the men who participate in the
tournament share a common demon with the worldwide homeless population—they
have very little self-confidence or sense of self-worth. By being able to participate
in a global tournament and represent their country, the men are given a sense of
purpose and identity. This documentary is a cornerstone for this unit due to its
ability to provide a valuable example of the importance of giving a voice to those
who are not heard.

Weekend assignment:

Students are to reflect on the film’s effectiveness in giving the homeless men a
voice. For the assignment, I will write the following on the SMARTboard:

Choose one of the countries focused on by the documentary and write a 1-2 page
reflection that addresses the following questions:

– How were the men of this team without a voice when they were
– What factors gave them a voice?
– Was their participation in this event a successful way to give them a
voice, or are there down sides to such exposure?

Students should address the fact that this event gave these men confidence,
something that they did not have as homeless individuals. Factors to be addressed
include that the event allowed the men to develop teamwork skills, as well as great
confidence and pride by representing their nation.
Week 4 (Monday-Tuesday): Brainstorming/Peer Review

Students are given these two days to take care of any business related to their
project. Opportunities for these two days include having one-on-one discussions
with me, group brainstorming, and peer editing of what each student will say/do for
their presentation.

Week 4 (Wednesday): The victim (poetry)

Text used:

– “Alabanza.” Martin Espada.

– clip of Espada reading his poem from
– clip explaining “Alabanza” from


Our final category of voiceless persons to cover allows students to look at how
victims are often overlooked and left without a voice. The events of September 11,
2001 claimed many victims. Though there were clear heroes that immerged from
this tragedy, there are still countless heroes of different caliber that got overlooked.
Espada’s poem “Alabanza” offers praise to those victims of the terrorist attack
whose only mourners were individual family. By glorifying these victims, Espada
gives them a voice.

My class can gain further insight on the importance of giving a voice to those who
can’t speak by exploring how Espada creates a legacy for these people. Though
their bodies lay dead with all the other tragic victims, any audience that hears the
words of “Alabanza” can feel for these people, their passion and love of life, and
thus they live on in the memories created by Espada’s poem. I feel it is absolutely
necessary to listen to the poet himself read his words because he delivers and
performs with such passion and conviction that he really does justice to the fallen
lesser-known victims of the World Trade Center attack.

The procedure for today will be part modeling, part peer review. Viewing
Espadaspeak (through the YouTube video) allows the students to see how inspired
some people get about giving a voice to the voiceless. Not only does this material
show the students one final example of someone giving a voice, but it shows how to
captivate an audience through dramatic presentation. Once the video is viewed,
students are encouraged to discuss any way in which they can incorporate an
aspect of his presence while they present their project to the class.
Week 4 (Thrusday-Friday): Give a Voice

Students give the voiceless a voice by presenting their finished projects to the class.

Handout for Week 1 (Friday)

How does music a voice to those who

need it?
How does some music encourage justice
Assignment: Over the weekend, go through your music collection and look
in the world?
for one single song that does what you are required to do for your unit
project—give a voice to someone in need.
Requirements: Write a one page paper about the song that answers the following

– What is the message of the song?

– Who is the audience?

– Who does the song give a voice to?

– Is the song effective in accomplishing its goal?

Include with the short paper a printed out version of the song’s
On Monday, bring your paper, the song lyrics, and a media version of the song. The
media version can be a CD, version of the song on an Mp3 player, or digital copy of
the song on a flash drive. We will devote Monday and Tuesday to listening to the
songs that you choose for this assignment. You are required to present to the class
your song, as well as describe why you chose it and what who it is intended to help.

With this in mind, please bring an edited version of the song if the original version of
the song is profane, and be ready to present to the class the reasons you chose
your song.

Sources used (chronologically)

Day 1-3

– Hemmingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. Triad Grafton. London,

Day 4:

– Cash, Johnny. “Folsom Prison Blues”. Folsom Prison Blues. Sun Records.
December, 1955.
– Cash, Johnny. “Man in Black”. Man in Black. Colombia Records. 1971
– Dylan, Bob and Levy, Jacques. “Hurricane”. Desire. ColombiaRecords.
November, 1975.

Day 5:

– Rivera, Diego. “Detroit Industry”. Viewed at

– “Local Choices: Help support our farm workers with Merced County’s
BinationalHealth Week”. <>

Day 6-8:
– Kafka, Franz. “The Hunger Artist”.
– The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. “Teaching With
Documents: Court Documents Related to Martin Luther King, Jr., and
Memphis Sanitation Workers”
– Photo of sanitation workers claiming human dignity from

Day 9:

– Maguire, Gregory. Wicked. Harper Collins. New York, 2008.

Day 10-12:

– Kicking Itdocumentary by ESPN Films. Directed by Susan Koch and Jeff

Warner. Viewed at <>

Day 13:

– “Alabanza.” Martin Espada.

– clip of Espada reading his poem from
– clip explaining “Alabanza” from