By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Courageous Teachers = Empowered Students

“Courageous social studies teachers across the country are wading into these difficult, sensitive topics in ways that have the potential to move young people from discouragement to empowerment, from complacency to awareness.”
—Dr. Beth C. Rubin

Teaching Social Justice Issues is a Crime?

When a friend posted on Facebook a link to an article indicating there is legislation pending in West Virginia that would make teaching social problems a crime, I thought it was a cruel joke from The Onion.  No such luck.  Emailing my cousins in West Virginia revealed several more such articles, indicating the proposal was ongoing and real.  What would be a crime?  Anything a critically thinking, motivated teacher does to empower students to become engaged, empowered, critically thinking citizens.

According to the article from Common Dreams, “Before students may participate in secondary level courses involving the study of social problems, global economics, foreign affairs, the United Nations, world government, socialism or communism, pupils shall first have completed basic instruction in geography, United States history, United States government and the government of the State of West Virginia, local governments in West Virginia, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutions of the United States and the State of West Virginia.”  Misdemeanors were listed as penalties.

According to an article in the West Virginia Gazette, legislation may not be imminent.  Delegate Michel Moffatt, R-Putnam, said the intent of the bill is for West Virginia students to learn about the nation’s founding documents and history, but he said the language ‘needs to be worked out.’ ”

However, the situation in our social studies and history classrooms is dire.  We teachers have the opportunity every day to help our students think, care, and ultimately act to change a world filled with injustice and inequality.  Do we have the courage to do our civic duty?  Taking the time to connect our required curricula with the issues of the day is our responsibility as teachers. 

The payoff for our courage as teachers is the difference between apathetic and discouraged students and engaged, empowered citizens. 

A Typology of Civic Identity

This conclusion is supported in the research of Beth C. Rubin who has spent a decade researching how students become (or don’t become) civically engaged.  Her article in Social Education, linked below, details her qualitative research at a variety of schools: ranging from those in high poverty settings to affluent settings and schools with highly diverse populations to those with little racial or ethnic diversity.

Dr. Rubin includes summaries of classroom activities undertaken by six teachers who tackled tough issues with their students.  The spontaneous to highly-planned classes included such activities as comparing current events such as the shooting of Mike Brown and ensuing protests with the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in one classroom.  In another classroom, inspired by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s series “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” students created a mural depicting the differences in life expectancy, net worth, and incarceration rates likely for a white and a black baby in the United States today.

Active: Aware/Empowered vs. Passive: Complacent/Discouraged

What is Dr. Rubin’s conclusion?  It is one West Virginia legislators and all teachers would do well to read.  She writes, “I noticed that in classrooms in which students directly engaged in activities and discussions about both the ideals and the shortcomings of this country, about their rights as citizens and successful struggles for social change, students who felt disjuncture also tended to express empowerment, a belief in the ability to contribute to meaningful change.”  This result was true in affluent and economically depressed schools.

Moreover, when students in high poverty settings do not have such opportunities in their classrooms to learn about the country’s founding documents and connect them to their rights and responsibilities as citizens, they “expressed deep discouragement, a belief that no change was possible.”

Teachers in schools with affluence and less diversity also have a great responsibility to include social justice issues in their lesson planning, says Rubin.  When such students “did not participate in lessons about inequality and social justice, it was common for them to voice complacency, a sense that all was well in the United States and no change was necessary.”  In contrast, her research shows, when privileged students tackled issues of inequality and injustice with their teachers, they “expressed an awareness of injustice and a desire to work for change.”

Our students often come running into the classroom eager to talk about difficult issues, and we need to make time to honor their passion.  On the other hand, sometimes we are the ones who need to pull off the Band-Aid of complacency and bring an issue to our students.  We can do this teaching in age-appropriate ways, and I have offered many suggestions for such teaching in past blog posts.

Other resources for bringing issues into the classroom are linked below.  Teaching Tolerance, ZinnEd Project, Rethinking Schools, and my own website, Teach for Peace, are among my top go-to sites for material to use when tackling tough issues.  Whether it’s by using picture books, news sources, or YouTube videos, or undertaking debate, journal writing, or document comparison, we teachers can and must help our students connect issues of injustice and inequality to their lives.  Our courageous teaching can lead to their courageous actions as informed, empowered local and global citizens. 

-Susan Gelber Cannon


Thursday, November 27, 2014


Our Middle School Model UN class was just wrapping up a simulation of a crisis conference on the Ebola epidemic.  Present, in the simulation, were “representatives” from Doctors without Borders, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and others.  However, the day after the Ferguson Grand Jury decision was rendered, these civic-minded students wanted to stop a different epidemic: that of racism in the United States.

We diverted energy from discussion of bullets fired and “he said/she said” to discuss larger, societal issues.  We used the links below to ponder the Ferguson case and decision.  We share them with you in hopes you will follow up with your students—or perhaps with your families at the Thanksgiving table and beyond.

 In our class we focused on these questions for discussion, and we asked students to continue conversations at home with family:

1. Where is the line between self-protection and protection of the public and murder?  At what point is a police officer justified in drawing his weapon in order to enforce the law?  In other countries are police officers armed?  To what extent?  

2. Are U.S. police departments using racial profiling at the expense of the safety of black youth?  Does data support this assertion?  Are any police departments building trusting relationships among their various communities?  How can this be done?

3. Why are protesters so angry about the ruling?  What has happened in Ferguson prior to this event?  Is there a history of institutionalized racism in the U.S. that needs to be investigated?  What should our next actions be to stop racism in our communities?

We offer our hopes for a world in which all children and adults are safe and valued, a world in which we stop the epidemic of racism.


2. Ferguson is About Us Too: A Call to Explore our CommunitiesThis article from National Council for the Social Studies provides numerous questions to help analyze our own communities as well as detailed date on Ferguson’s racial make-up and police stops and arrests broken down by race. 

3. 538 Blog: It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just DidThe 538 Blog explains data on grand jury rulings -- especially as they apply in cases involving police officers.

4.  Newsweek: How America's Police Became an ArmyMilitarization of US Police Departments: Where have all these armored vehicles come from?  The military-industrial complex is hard at work, distributing armored vehicles to police department who may not want them.

5. Economist: How Foot Patrols Keep Tough Neighbourhoods SaferEconomist article on foot patrols in Philadelphia, one example of policing designed to integrate officers into neighborhoods. 

6. The ONION: Sometimes Unfortunate Things Happen In The Heat Of A 400-Year-Old Legacy Of Racism Does stinging satire help us deal with the tragic results of the 400-year-old legacy of African enslavement and racism in the Americas?  Does this article cross the line or tell it like it is?    

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


“We overwhelm children with all the suffering and evil in the world, but do we enable them to act?”  
Educator Sister Joan Magnetti

“I learned that you can change the world in small doses, one at a time.”
Sixth Grade Girl
To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of 
critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care.  Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can act effectively and conscientiously 
to solve problems big and small, global and local.
Susan Gelber Cannon

“Change the world.  Details coming soon.”
At the 2014 National Council for Social Studies [NCSS] Conference in Boston, I introduced teachers to Think-Care-Act Projects, designed to empower students to take informed social action. The workshop helped teachers incorporate social-action projects in history classes and school culture.  Participants learned a manageable Freirean model of social action that incorporates critical and creative thinking, compassionate local and global care, and informed and effective social action.  The resources in this blog enable teachers to help students think, care, and act regarding local and global problems in pragmatic, age-appropriate ways that empower rather than overwhelm them.  
Handouts are linked below. My website features numerous resources to promote critical thinking, compassion, and action. These and other links are provided to get teachers started on think-care-act projects with students.
·               Think-Care-Act Project steps include critically thinking about local and global issues that affect people, animals, and the environment; evaluating personal passions and talents to select the most cared about issues; formulating and implementing effective action plans with achievable goals; communicating actions taken; and evaluating effectiveness.

Sixth Graders Change the World with Think-Care-Act Projects in 2014: An account of last year’s project
To make a difference in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care.  Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can act effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.  Sixth graders showed they are ready to tackle problems of all sizes with their Think-Care-Act Projects.
Just before spring break, sixth grade history teachers piqued their students’ curiosity with a seemingly simple homework assignment: “Change the world.  Details coming soon.”
For several weeks, under their teachers’ guidance, sixth graders thought deeply about their unique talents, hobbies, qualities, and values they could employ in changing the world for the better.  Next, they considered the problems involving people, animals, and the environment that drew them to action.  They combined their unique skill-sets with their passions for service as they embarked on a research and social-action project that culminated with each student making a difference at school and in the community.
In 2004 I had introduced the project to my sixth grade history students calling it the Citizenship Action Project.  Character educator Dr. Usha Balamore, had adopted the project for the entire fifth grade at her school, changing the name in honor of my book title and the steps of the project.  Thus, this ten-year anniversary of the history-class final project was now called the Think-Care-Act Project.  It now involved our school’s entire sixth grade with the guidance of my fellow history teachers, Mrs. Bert Howlin, Mr. Larry Henderson, and Mr. Steven Ramirez. 
Why does a social action project belong in a history class curriculum?  Said a former student, “All year we’ve been studying people who made history.  Finally we get to make history ourselves.”

Making history ourselves
Projects were as varied as the students themselves.  Students worked alone and in small groups, researching issues, learning about root causes, contacting organizations active in solutions, taking hands-on action, and preparing to teach their peers about their topics.  The culminating event was the Think-Care-Act Fair held in Middle School on May 20.  Sixth grade “experts” taught Lower and Middle School visitors, teachers, and family members how they, too, could change the world.
Melanie and Skylar researched the problems of poverty in the local community.  Their research led them to an organization called Our Closet that provides clothing to people who cannot afford to buy clothing.  “I cared about Our Closet because it allows people to look nice for jobs and to support their families,” says Melanie.  She and Skylar spoke to twelve Lower School classes about the organization, collected bags of clothing at school, and collected a truckload of clothing at an off-campus site.  “I care personally about this problem because I realized how many clothes I have and how little others have,” Skylar reflected.
Aiden advocated for the Gift of Life Donor Program, educating classmates and adults about the need for organ and tissue donors.  He participated in a 5K Donor Dash and used social media, including a blog.  “I was able to spread my message to people in Africa, Bermuda, and all over the United States.  I realize I may just be a kid, but anyone can make a difference,” said Aiden.
Adam and Emily sang at a senior center, employing their love of music to bring joy to others.  An audience member told Adam, “Son, you made me smile today.”  Adam realized, “It made me feel good to know that by doing something that makes me happy I could affect others as well.”
Matthew knows someone who uses a Seeing-Eye dog, and of course, he knows Einstein, one of our school’s own Seeing-Eye-puppies.  He combined his love of animals with his love for people as he and Mrs. Fran McLaughlin took Einstein to visit residents of a retirement home.  He also taught his peers about the Seeing Eye training process.  In another animal project, Torrie and Paige created a slogan, “Unleash joy with a homemade toy,” as they created hand-made toys for the dogs and cats at the local SPCA. 
Grace researched the issue of e-waste.  “Electronic waste is bad for the environment because when e-waste is put in landfills or incinerators it releases certain toxins into the air” and wastes useful materials.  She learned about our school’s e-waste policies and taught her classmates about community recycling programs.  “I care about this problem because of my passion for technology and my love of the Earth,” reflected Grace on her project choice.  Other environmentally focused projects included Justin’s work to monitor water quality in fishing streams and the efforts of Natalie and Katie to educate neighbors and peers about the importance of protecting bats by building bat houses.  “Bats are important to the world,” states Katie.  “They eat pounds and pounds of mosquitoes and other insects.”  Natalie concurs, “This prevents some diseases from spreading to humans.”

Projects ranged from teaching how to save a life in an emergency, to how to prevent bullying, to how to train a dog, to how to adopt an animal from a shelter, to how many calories are in chicken patty lunch—and why it matters.

Educator Sister Joan Magnetti asked, “We overwhelm children with all the suffering and evil in the world, but do we enable them to act?”  The Sixth Grade Think-Care-Act Project does just that. 
--Susan Gelber Cannon, November 2014

1. CHANGE THE WORLD: SUE CANNON'S NCSS WORKSHOP HANDOUT : Classroom handouts for Nobel Peace Prize Bingo, Human Rights Role Plays, and Think-Care-Act Project directions (including student sample work), as well as slides for #NCSS2014 Session 493.
2. TEACH FOR PEACE WEBSITE-Resources for teaching students to think, care, and act for the greater good
3. PeaceJam-How to Start video Good 2-minute intro to the process of informed action
4. Do Something: Causes Website  Selection of various arenas in which to take action
5. Susan Cannon's middle school students teach Dr. Elizabeth Crawford's pre-service teaching class how to do Think-Care-Act Projects Video introduces peace education, human rights, and social action concepts, featuring middle school student activists and future teachers collaborating and learning from each other.