Cover Image
close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 7: Can change happen?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Making change
View the documentActivity 2: What would you do?

(introduction...)

COMMON ASSUMPTION: Poor people are so underfed and uneducated that they cannot mobilize themselves to work for change. Moreover, those of us who are not hungry can do little in the face of such enormous problems.

DESCRIPTION

There are two major goals to this lesson: to learn about change and how it occurs; and to see how people, even young people, can be involved in changing the forces that create hunger and other social problems. The lesson seeks to dispel the notion that poor people are lazy, stupid, or passive. The lesson is divided into two activities. It will work best if both activities are done one after the other.

ACTIVITY 1

Making Change helps students define change and understand what it is to be an agent of change. They will discuss how change occurs at different levels - from personal to international - and discuss how change can come about rapidly or slowly.

ACTIVITY 2

What Would You Do? asks students to design their own solution to real life problems. The activity includes stories about other people's attempts to solve the problems. This exercise is followed by discussion questions to help students discover the qualities they share with agents of change. The activity helps students realize that people without the advantages of formal education and wealth are often very effective in changing unfair conditions. Lack of education and money does not mean lack of intelligence or will.

BACKGROUND FOR THE TEACHER

Rural sociologists have documented that poor people often clearly understand the forces that create poverty. They are not prevented from changing these forces by laziness or ignorance. Many times poor and oppressed people are taught by their society that their situation is their fault; they feel they have done something wrong.

Often a clear sense of the power stacked against them can create hopelessness. It may even be life-threatening to work for change, as it was for civil rights workers in the United States in the 1960s, as it is for farm cooperative organizers in Guatemala today.

Yet in every country where people have been made hungry, there are people standing up for their rights and the rights of others, often at the risk of death. What makes the difference? Why do some people endure deprivation while others work actively for a better society? Sometimes the example of one person can give courage and hope to others. Sometimes the influence of religious teachers can help people see themselves - and their potential - in a new light. Religious movements in Latin America, for example, have allowed many poor people to appreciate the innate dignity of each individual and believe that the human rights of each person must be respected. For many poor people, this perspective leads to demands for the right to the resources - such as land, and jobs at decent pay - necessary to care for one's loved ones and live in dignity.

We often don't appreciate the sweeping social changes brought about just in this century, improving the well-being of millions of poor people and others - women and minority groups-denied basic rights. Four decades ago, many observers doomed China to perpetual starvation, but today the Chinese have virtually eliminated hunger.' Even as late as 1978, most doubted that the Nicaraguans could oust their oppressive dictator, Anastasio Somoza. But the strength of poor people's determination was underestimated. Fifty thousand Nicaraguans, many of them teenagers, died so that a better life could be possible for others. Having defeated Somoza in 1979, Nicaraguans from all walks of life are still willing to work hard, with great personal sacrifice, to increase health care and food security and defend their country.

At the local level, we find examples all over the world of the poor organizing to improve their lives. The Working Women's Forum in India provides thousands of poor, illiterate women with bank loans, education, and a new sense of respect within the community. The agricultural cooperatives created after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 give poor black farmers a chance to compete with the privileged white commercial farmers. In Haiti, groups led by Christian religious leaders helped the poor grasp the unfairness and corruption of the Duvalier regime, leading to its ouster in 1986.

People are only passive when they have no hope. By working together, they can hope. Their struggles lay to rest the notion that the poor are too lazy or ignorant to work for change. And their successes - often against overwhelming odds - prove that people working together can, indeed do, make a tremendous difference.


Change

QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE

1. What is change?
2. What are the barriers to change?
3. How can change occur?

Activity 1: Making change

Students will discuss the concept of change, particularly social change. This activity is best done after students have worked on activities in other lessons so they will have ideas for changes they might like to see. Because this activity's focus is general, you could also work it into units on topics other than hunger.

OBJECTIVES

· To analyze the meaning of social change and how formerly uninvolved people have become actively involved in changing their situations

· To pinpoint changes needed to solve problems at various levels of society from personal to schoolwide to global

· To discuss the factors that discourage or prevent change in students' own lives and in the lives of others

MATERIALS

· Blackboard and chalk

TIME

One-half to one hour

EVALUATION

Class discussion

VOCABULARY

change, obstacle, passive


Making change

PROCEDURE

1. Begin by asking the students to describe one change they have seen. This may be a change in the school, in the community, in an individual's life, or in national politics. List the changes on the board. What was the initial setting? What was the goal? What was the outcome? How did the process of change begin? Who got involved?

2. As you list changes the students suggest, you may wish to discuss different levels of change, such as personal, school, regional, national, and international.

Young people often see their futures as being out of control. It is difficult to see how small efforts to change things can add up to make a difference. It becomes easy to give up and try to hide from the problem. If you sense this kind of hopelessness, try to encourage a long-haul view. It may take many people working together and individually for a long time for a major change to occur. Each of the individuals is needed and is important. Examples of this long-haul change include the abolition of slavery, voting rights for women, and laws for workplace safety.

3. Ask someone to describe how events can trigger change. Does anyone know someone who was moved to become active by a certain event or experience?

4. Discuss why changes sometimes do not occur. What factors might prevent change in our personal lives? Students may suggest various fears. What factors discourage change in the lives of poor people?

5. Discuss whether all change is good. Ask students to think of examples of changes that produce more hunger and suffering. Examples could be increase in unemployment, cuts in social programs (including student aid), increases in the arms race and foreign aid to governments blocking reform, or revocation of civil rights by the Supreme Court.

6. Discuss how the changes the students have suggested above might involve losers as well as winners. On the other hand, you might want to ask students to think about ways in which all people - or almost all-might gain from the social changes they have suggested. For example, ending the poverty in many countries might mean a more fair distribution of farmland, with the largest landowners having to give up some land. But might the whole society benefit from such a change? How? Are healthy people more able to contribute to society? Might there be less fear and violence in such a society?

7. Refer to the common assumption that hungry people are passive. What impressions do students get of poor people when they see them on television? Media images of hunger often portray the hungry of the world as hopeless people reaching out with cups to accept donations from wealthy citizens. Are there exceptions to this portrayal? What are some examples? Discuss with the class some of the reasons that poor people might feel passive or hopeless in some situations.

8. Wrap up by moving the discussion into the future. Ask students for some changes they would like to see in their lives, in the city, in our country, and in the world. List these on the blackboard. (Remember to list changes at all levels.) Brainstorm about students' possible roles in making these changes occur. If there is time, you can ask students to write a poem or song or draw a picture about change.

Activity 2: What would you do?

Students will be presented with a problem situation and work in groups to propose a solution. Afterwards, class members will share ideas and learn about how others have dealt with the same problems.

OBJECTIVES

· To describe (orally or in writing) a solution to a social problem
· To discover problems and tradeoffs in working to change a situation
· To discuss ways that others have overcome barriers to change and ways that students themselves can become agents of change in their own lives

MATERIALS

· Student handout:

What Would You Do?

· Optional handouts:

Health Class Is Boring
Poor People Have No Say in This Town
Losing the Farm
Suddenly Homeless
Textile Mill Blues

TIME

Two hours

EVALUATION

What Would You Do? Solutions can be turned in.

VOCABULARY

boycott, cooperative, passive, petition

PROCEDURE

1. Divide the class into five small groups.

2. The student handout presents five problem situations. Each situation poses a social or community problem, a setting, and a role for the student to play. The problems do not all deal with hunger and poverty, but all place people in seemingly powerless positions. Read the problems to the students or copy and distribute them.

3. Ask each group to assume the role of a person in one of the situations and to write a short (one- or two-paragraph) description of what they might do to change the situation. Ask them to describe whether their solution will be difficult to carry out. How might it affect other people in their community?

4. When students turn in their solutions, you can post them on the bulletin board or engage in a class discussion in which the students share their responses.

5. The set of optional handouts shows how real people have worked for change in these problem situations. You may wish to describe these solutions to the class, hand copies out to read, or post them on the bulletin board. Point out that there may be many good approaches to the same problem.

6. Discuss how each person is important in ending hunger. Either we can be agents of positive change or we can reinforce the causes of hunger and poverty in hundreds of choices we make. Social activists aren't the only people working for change. Ask students how we can all work for change in the following situations:

· As students. Are we just passively following our instructors, or do we use school to develop our ability to think critically?

· As teachers. Does our teaching stop when we leave the classroom, or do we seek to teach and learn from our families and friends?

· As citizens. Do we just sit and complain when our elected officials make policies that we disagree with; or do we write letters, make calls, petition, or campaign for other candidates?

· As workers. Do we just look out for our own jobs, or are we also concerned about the welfare of others?

· As savers. Do we just put our money where it will earn the most interest, or do we consider where our savings are being invested by the bank?

· As consumers. Do we just look for a good deal, or do we consider the social and environmental effects of the products we buy?

· As members of any group. Do we seek to elevate ourselves, or do we value the contributions of all members of the group?

ACTION IDEAS

LEARN MORE

Invite a person working for change to speak to your class. Help students locate an individual or a representative from a local organization working on food, housing, energy, land use, refugee problems, or any other issue.

JOIN OTHERS

Students can work together with cooperatives in other countries. For example, the Mennonite Central Committee has organized self-help craft shops throughout the United States. These shops sell only goods produced by cooperatives that pay their workers fair amounts.

Encourage students to join a voter registration drive. Even if they can't register others because they are not registered themselves, students can help organize the drive, gives rides to people, prepare materials, etc. Contact churches, synagogues, colleges and universities, the League of Women Voters, or the Urban League in your area.

If there is a change students would like to see in the community or school, they can start their own group to deal with the issue. Students and townspeople have been effective in stopping environmentally harmful projects, in improving housing in their communities, and in countless other ways.

· Cooperative Trading (organization)
· Institute for Peace and Justice (organization)
· Movement for a New Society (organization)
· National Student Campaign Against Hunger (organization)
· Taking Charge, the Struggle for Economic Justice (filmstrip)


What would you do?

Health class is boring

Students Concerned with Public Health began as an organization of thirty Philadelphia high-school students and one adult, all dedicated to developing their own health education materials and getting these materials into the hands of other students in Philadelphia's public schools.

From the very beginning, the students had the main voice in making the group's decisions. Their chief criticism of traditional health education was that it was presented in such complicated and unappealing terms (thick textbooks full of technical language) that many students just didn't "turn on" to health information that was actually of vital importance to them.

The group set about developing materials and techniques that would appeal to elementary-school children. They presented the information through posters, comic books, cartoon strips, puppet shows, and science experiments. They chose to emphasize health problems that would be most immediate and pressing for these students as they grew a little older - drug abuse, alcoholism, sexually-transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis. In addition, they began to think of ways in which they might encourage young children to think about embarking on health careers.

The Philadelphia-Montgomery Tuberculosis and Health Association agreed to sponsor the group and assigned its director of Education Services to help. The association donated office space, and the group began to hold meetings there several days a week during science class and after school.

Alcoholism was the first topic the students chose to tackle. They visited Philadelphia's Diagnostic and Rehabilitation Center and spent a day talking about the problem with physicians, psychologists, social workers, street workers, alcoholics, and recovering alcoholics. Then they visited Eagleville Hospital and Rehabilitation Center to talk with the professional staff and observe group therapy in action. Finally they did extensive reading on the subject and began preparing their materials - a play, comic books, posters, and various puppet shows.

Members of the group then formed teams of three or four students and went out into the schools and playgrounds of North Philadelphia with their puppets, comic books, and plays to educate children about health problems and health careers. Health careers were stressed as attainable and worthwhile goals that could give purpose to learning and provide an alternative to self-destructive behavior such as gang warring, alcohol or drug abuse, and dropping out of school.

- Based on report by the National Commission on Resources for Youth, New Roles for Youth In the School and the Community (New York: Citation Press, 1979)

Poor people have no say in this town

In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement came to Mississippi. Slowly the poverty-stricken black communities of the state became alive with new ideas and activity. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the freedom schools came to West Point in Clay County, and out of these programs arose not only a new consciousness that something could be done to improve the lot of Mississippi blacks, but also a new generation of young boys and girls dedicated to achieving that improvement.

From an early age-in many cases as young as twelve or thirteen - the young blacks of West Point had a clear, hard, realistic vision of the forces that oppressed them and the forces that might liberate them. Even after freedom schools departed, a group of these young people met regularly to discuss their plans, their aspirations, and their common experiences. They founded the Clay County Youth Organization (CCYO).

While some of the CCYO'S projects have been aimed at very specific youth problems (for example, the group organized a walkout at Fifth Street Senior High School to demand better heating, better books, better teachers, and more public recreational facilities), their most successful contributions to the welfare of their peers have come through activities that have been planned with the whole black community in mind.

The CCYO has been instrumental in successful voter registration drives in Clay County. It also operates the much-needed daycare center. Perhaps most impressive of all, CCYO ran a successful boycott of white business establishments.

The circumstances surrounding this boycott illustrate the extremely serious and demanding situations members of the group face in their everyday lives. A few years ago, the man who is now the CCYO's advisor ran for mayor of West Point. One day while he was campaigning, a group of whites drove up to his sound truck and shot and killed the driver.

In response to the killing, CCYO organized a boycott of West Point's white-owned businesses. The list of demands included the conviction of the killer, the end of police brutality, and increased employment of blacks in shops and public offices. The boycott lasted for ten months and resulted in numerous gains, such as new black-owned shops and improvements in the police department.

The CCYO has virtually no operating money. Because the local black community is poor, contributions are inevitably small. But the organization manages to maintain its own house, and its many members continue to participate enthusiastically in a variety of activities. For the present, people power seems to be an adequate substitute for lack of funds; and the program shows that a youth organization can be of inestimable help to a community, even without many dollars to support it.

- Based on report by the National Commission on Resources for Youth, New Roles for Youth In the School and the Community (New York: Citation Press. 1979)

Losing the farm

For years farmers have been thought of as unorganized and individualistic, as people who would look out for themselves and their own problems before joining others. Farmers have also tended to blame themselves for their financial problems and have felt isolated. As farmers have begun to realize that nationwide farm problems aren't the fault of the farmers alone, they have begun to work together. Since 1981, more than thirty groups have formed in farming areas to build a movement for family farmers.

Many of these groups carry out protests at farm foreclosure auctions, at banks, at U.S. government offices, and at courthouses. Farm groups now lobby state legislatures for laws to protect family farms from corporate takeover.

There have also been small-scale programs that have helped farmers come to grips with their problems. In Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska, for example, several groups work together to form a hotline for farm families, legal services, and food assistance.

Most programs have dealt with the problems of the adults on the farm, though, and not with the problems encountered by young people as their families go bankrupt or are forced off the land. A program in Nebraska called Students Against the Farm Economy (SAFE) has begun to deal with these problems.

SAFE is made up of teenagers serving teenagers. It was organized by a small group of teenagers working with a local minister. They trained each other in counseling and crisis-intervention techniques. It provides a peer-counseling service and a place to talk about problems farm families are going through, ranging from losing material possessions such as cars and furniture, to losing the land itself, to losing family members to suicide. Young people help educate each other about the roots of the farm crisis and farm economics in general. They also give educational presentations in schools and churches to help educate people who may not be directly affected by farm problems.

- Based on information from the Center for Rural Affairs. PO Box 405, Walthill, NE 68067

Suddenly homeless

Until January 1983, Chris Sprowal lived a rather prosperous if uneventful life. Married with two young children, he owned two cars and enjoyed his $65,000 suburban Louisiana home. But that winter, his business failed - and with it his marriage. Sprowal decided to get out, to start again. He moved to New York City.

"I left New Orleans with a couple hundred dollars, a car, and some belongings," says Sprowal, "expecting that in no time at all I'd have a job and get myself back in shape again."

But he couldn't find a job, and as money ran out he began living from friend to friend. In April of 1983, with $3 in his pocket, he returned to Philadelphia, his original home.

"He was a broken man," recalls Sister Mary Scullion, director of the Women of Hope Shelter, who met Sprowal that spring. "He looked just like another homeless person - tired, old, and beaten."

Sprowal remembers those long days and nights on the street and the hours spent in Philadelphia's libraries, courtrooms, and hospital lobbies, keeping warm and out of sight. "You can't imagine how humiliating it is," he says. "I would meet someone I knew as a kid and pretend I was either going to or from work, or some bullshit like that. I didn't want people to know I was homeless."

One fall evening in 1983, at the drop-in center where hundreds of homeless fight for fifty basement chairs, Sprowal sat next to a mentally ill woman. She could not keep still and began walking around. The counselors ordered her to stop it. When she didn't, they picked her up and threw her out.

"All that day and the next day," recalls Sprowal, "I kept thinking, you're nothing. You've come to the point where you won't even say something when you see terrible things happen."

But the following night, he did say something. He argued with the man who had tossed the woman out. "Throw me out," Sprowal challenged him. The counselor did just that, and the officials told him never to come back.

"It was from that very moment when I went out that door and down those steps that I started talking to homeless people about organizing," Sprowal says. "That changed me. It gave me the energy for the time to say, 'We don't have to take this just because we're homeless.”

The center refused to acknowledge the problems, so Sprowal decided to hold a one-day demonstration in front of the facility. He enlisted the help of shelter operators and religious and community leaders.

"When powerless people try to raise issues, it's very easy to dismiss them," says Sister Scullion. "They were saying, 'We're not listening to you. You're crazy. You're bums.' That day I learned that it takes a lot of courage for powerless people to stand up."

Sprowal and his followers have bathed in a pristine business district fountain during lunch hour to demonstrate the need for public showers. They have conducted sit-ins at the Thirtieth Street Station and at the offices of the mayor, the health commissioner, and the president of the university. The group has also successfully sued the city on behalf of the homeless.

- Adapted from David Davis, "The Homeless Elect an Ambassador," The Progressive, December 1985

Textile mill blues

Maurine Hedgepeth, a weaver at J.P. Stevens's Rosmary Mill, stood tending a loom. It was just after 1:00 on a Wednesday morning, August 28,1974. That day three thousand J.P. Stevens workers in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, would vote for union representation.

Most mill workers were asleep now in the darkened town. But night had been blocked out for Maurine by the bricked-in windows. Overhead fluorescent lights created an artificial day in the giant weave room. The clatter of the looms obliterated the thick stillness of the night outside.

Maurine took a pair of scissors from the big pocket of her striped dress and snipped a tangled knot of yarn. She was singing "Gonna roll, gonna roll, gonna roll the union on." The looms were so loud that Maurine was sure no one could hear her. But her supervisor said, "You sure are happy, Maurine." Maurine smiled et trim. Then he moved closer. "But you're going to be crying before the day is out."

"You may be crying today," Maurine said, looking her boss in the eye, "but I never will."

Shortly before 4:00 in the morning, Maurine Hedgepeth left her looms to work as an official union observer in the election that was soon to begin. National Labor Relations Board representatives, overseeing the voting, sat near the two polling booths in the Rosmary Mill cloth room. Maurine watched as the workers filed in to vote.

This vote for union representation was the culmination of years of struggle. In 1934 mill workers in Roanoke Rapids had shut down the plant for three weeks. Textile workers struck all over the South. In September of that year, one-half million of the nation's three-quarter million textile workers walked off their jobs - in the largest strike in U.S. history - to protest low wages, the speed-up of the machines, and poor working conditions. Martial law had been declared. National Guard and state troopers swarmed into the town to break the strike. Sixteen workers were killed and hundreds more wounded. The strike ended after President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to set up a textile board to investigate the causes of the strike in return for the union's calling it off. It was not a good bargain. The board broke faith with the president, conditions at the mill continued as before, and fifteen thousand union members were barred from the mills after the strike was lost.

Again in 1958, when textile workers in neighboring Henderson walked off their jobs, the pattern of violence and opposition was repeated. The governor (a former mill company executive) sent in the state militia and the highway troopers. The state patrol escorted strikebreakers to the mill gates. The town erupted in fire bombings, beatings, and shootings, and the workers were defeated.

After the voting, the ballots were carried to the Rosmary conference room, a small wooden building much like a one-room schoolhouse. J.P. Stevens officials sat on the left side of the room, union supporters sat on the right, many others stood outside on the front lawn. At the front of the room, National Labor Relations Board representatives sorted out the ballots. They counted the votes in piles of fifty. First the "no" votes piled up and the Stevens executives smiled. Then the "yes" votes got a higher stack, and the union people grinned. As the last votes were tallied, the "yes" stack stood taller than the "no's."

The brand new textile union members left the conference room and ran down Roanoke Avenue to their union hall, shouting, "We won. We won. The union's won!"

- Adapted from Mimi Conway and Earl Dotter, Rise, Gonna Rise (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, 1979)