The themes of activism and social justice run throughout the Manhattan Country School program. Students study the history of activist movements as well as current struggles for equality. The choice of books and topics of discussions in classes reflect our effort to teach students how to participate in a democratic society and take action to bring about a more just world. Students learn about the diversity of the human experience and the pursuit of social justice in all classes. The 6-7s discuss the value of work and communities of workers. A 7-8s music class might explore the meaning of a boycott while learning a freedom song from the Civil Rights Movement. Fifth-graders talk with their public school partners about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy as they develop the criteria for the Living the Dream Book Award. Sixth-graders study the history of MCS as a living example of grassroots change: MCS founders Gus and Marty Trowbridge, two people with a dream, brought to life a groundbreaking new school.
Lessons in the classroom often become invitations to activism as students begin with change in their school community and then look to the outside world. As the school’s leaders, the seventh- and eighth-graders have the opportunity to design and lead an activism project as a group each year. Their recent spring projects have included:
- Raising awareness about the Syrian Refugee Crisis and Islamophobia
- Lobbying for the DREAM Act in Washington, DC
- Leading a teach-in about Mountaintop Removal (MTR) Coal Mining in West Virginia
- Writing children’s books to teach other young people about accepting LGBTQ students
- Traveling to Mississippi to work with children and schools affected by Hurricane Katrina
The eighth-graders also plan the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March. They begin with the question, “If Dr. King were alive today, what do you think he would be marching for?” Students choose a topic, decide on the route, write speeches that they will deliver along the way, publicize the event and invite special guests. Marches are community events, with 200 to 300 people in attendance.