Addressing Social Justice with Students on MLK Day

“Justice, justice shall you pursue,” the Torah insists. 

This notion of social justice and pursuing fairness is a central tenet of Judaism, rooted in both text and halacha. Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers a wonderful opportunity for teaching about social justice, tolerance, acceptance, racism, current events, and Jewish values, for students of all ages.

Here are some ideas to incorporate social justice into your classes or courses:

1. Plan a series of workshops to expand teens' understanding of why social action is important and how to sucessfully plan, execute and evaluate a social action project. Study Jewish texts that highlight social action and read inspiring stories of teens who created powerful community projects. 

The Social Action Manual can guide you and your students through such topics as describing social problems in terms of solvable issues, choosing a project, putting a project into action, assessing the success of a project, and incorporating social action into our everyday lives. 

2. Discuss current events and dilemmas through the lens of Jewish values. Studying contemporary issues, for which there are no easy solutions allows teens to be come informed about hot topics and develop their own opinions, informed by Jewish values. 

Today's Hot Topics can serve as an ongoing resource, whether as a series, a one-time event, or as part of an experience, such as a class kickoff to a project. 

3. Learn about organizations working for justice. Our Shared Worldfrom the Living Jewish Values series, has a series of lessons for students in grades 4-6 about tzedek - what it is, how justice differs from getting what you want, and how to develop a plan to adopt justice in their own lives. Culminate the lessons by researching social justice organizations and how they exhibit Jewish values, then share such learning with others, via posters or exhibits. 

4. Play a game. The Jewish Values Challenge Playing Cards use an informal approach to helping pre-teens clarify values and how to bring them to life in a fun, yet thoughful way.

5. Act it out.  Explore concepts of justice and mercy by having students role play, such as a criminal, judge and jury, then explore and reflect on the experience. Teaching Jewish Virtues, part of the ARE series of educator resources, offers specific examples and activities around justice for students of all ages. 

6. Learn about nonviolence and the connection between the Bible and Dr. King. We've put together a lesson that introduces nonviolence as a philosophy and tool central to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students will study some of Dr. King’s statements and quotations from Tanach and recognize the Biblical basis for Dr. King’s values. Download the lesson here




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