The Message and the Medium: Teaching Social Justice With Technology

Carrie Schoemer

“Our society should look past each other’s skin colours, languages, cultures and backgrounds. Kids can achieve a lot and we can spread this message. If we start now, then we will have a different future than the world we have now.”

These powerful words are from Farzana, a normally quiet grade 8 student. She admits that when she started to wear hijab three years ago, people bothered and taunted her. But she has gained confidence in herself and now speaks freely about discrimination. Farzana is just one of the students in my class who has found the vocabulary and the voice to discuss difficult issues like prejudice. Perhaps winning a national video competition had something to do with it.

 Are You Sure?

When the secretary at my school told me one day in February that I had a phone message from Citizenship and Immigration Canada I was shocked. My class had recently entered a contest sponsored by this federal department, called “Racism. Stop It!” The competition invited students ages 12 to 19 from across Canada to submit a 60-second public service announcement with an antiracism message.

Our video,  Are You Sure?, was one of 10 national winners – the only winning video from Ontario – and the prizes for the contest were incredible. We won a digital camcorder for the school and our video will air on CBC/Radio-Canada television for one year. But the greatest honour was that I accompanied five student representatives from my class on an all-expenses-paid trip to Ottawa. During three days, we met the other winners and had many interesting conversations with teachers and filmmakers about combining social justice teaching with technology.

Expertise for the asking

My class came to enter the contest rather accidentally. In October, I received a flyer at a meeting of the Political Action Committee of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto. It offered free workshops by the National Film Board for students across Ontario. Facilitators would come to a classroom and assist the class in creating a video entry for the national “Racism. Stop It!” competition.

I thought that working on this topic using technology would certainly engage my students in a meaningful way. Also, I had never produced video work with my class, and I felt I needed some professional learning. One month later, two facilitators from the NFB arrived in my classroom and stayed for two days. In that time, they showed us how to make a movie from beginning to end.

First we developed a message, which was perhaps the most interesting part of the process. Our video is about stereotyping, which, my student Juenelle explains, “is just as bad as racism. It is one of those forms of racism that just slides under the radar.” My students told


Stock photo of man using laptop

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Teacher working with student using a laptop

This program opened the door to creative thinking about literacy and technology that invigorated my passion for teaching and my students’ passion for learning.