One of the most refreshing books to cross my desk in years is “The Kid’s Guide to Social Action” by a Utah elementary school teacher, Barbara- A. Lewis. She is a sixth grade teacher in Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City. Her students mobilized to clean up a toxic waste dump three blocks from. the school by – ‘persuading the Mayor to act and by persuading the state legislature to establish a state Superfund program for other toxic dumps.
Not surprisingly, Barbara Lewis played a key role in motivating and guiding these children and teaching them citizen skills that million: of other children never learn about in all their years in school.
The Jackson schoolchildren became famous in the press, local and national media. They branched out into other projects such as a tree-planting program which has Since gone national. A local songwriter, Rosanne Markham, dedicated a song to them, titled “The Children, Our Future.” Some of the Jackson school (located in a poor area, not a rich urban enclave) children sang the recording of the song.
Now, Barbara Lewis has put together the liveliest practical civics book for young students in print. The Kid’s Guide to Social Action opens by describing the Jackson students’ achievements and then elaborates what needs to be done to take on a community problem and resolve it. Following a civic “Proclamation for Kids”, she lists “ten tips for taking social action,” portrays “Kids in Action around the world” and goes through the “power skills” that need to be learned.
“Power skills” include how to telephone, how to write letters to editors and public officials, with examples, and how to conduct “power interviewing.” Other skills include how to conduct surveys, raise funds, obtain media coverage, register voters, gain representation on local boards and “if all else fails,” how to parade, picket and protest.
How to initiate and change laws comprises another Core of this uplifting book, followed by a section on resources that can be tapped to help the children intheir projects, from ‘government offices to citizen advocacy groups. There are even a few pages on existing awards and formal recognitions for activist children.
The book’s end section is filled with forms such as a petition form, tabulation of survey results forms, interview forms, a voter registration form, and a public service announcement form.
What is more impressive about this workbook size book is that it teaches democracy as a reflection of informed citizen power. The word “power” petitioning and “power” lobbying is a recurrent theme. Democratic power is not usually highlighted in traditional civics books With such concrete examples and practical skills. Civic has long been taught. to drowsing schoolchildren in a very abstract and distant fashion — rarely talking about contemporary problems, local situations and proper names.
The obvious question that readers take away from this book is: “Why isn’t this book a best seller and why aren’t thousands of elementary school classes teaching civics and social action as Barbara Lewis does — local, real, involved and connecting to sources of influence to change society for the better?
Maybe the answer is that too many schools and school districts do not want to ruffle community feathers among the powers-that-be. Maybe the answer is for more teachers and principals to obtain a copy of “The Kid’s Guide to Social Action”, (Free Spirit Publishing, 400 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401, $14.95) and watch its magic go to work.