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1 — Protest: What is and what could be

Drawing of a unclothed baby wearing a military helmet and winding up a mechanical white dove of peace (with a laurel branch by its feet), with fallen toy soldiers on the ground by the baby's feet

Above: Peace. Source: © Pawel Kuczynski (detail)

In this sequence students are introduced to the concept of protest and consider how important the act of protest is in society. Beginning with a definition of protest, they explore how protest operates in personal contexts, investigating the paradigm that protest looks at the world as it is and the world as it could or should be. Building on this understanding, the learning sequence focuses on the relationship between literature, freedom of expression and protest. Students explore representations of protest in William Blake’s poems, ‘Infant Joy’ and ‘Infant Sorrow’, Malala Yousafza’s blog, ‘Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl’, and Pawel Kuzcynski’s satiric image, Peace (pictured here). They examine what these texts have to say about the world as it is and the world as it could be.

The activities in this learning sequence could also be reordered and used inductively in the classroom using the texts to lead students to reflect on what protest might mean.

Activity 1: Protest and personal experience

In this activity the students construct personal anecdotes related to the concept of protest. Before you begin, define the word protest for the students. The Macquarie Dictionary defines protest (n) as ‘a formal expression or declaration of objection or disapproval, often in opposition to something which one is powerless to prevent or avoid and as a verb (sometimes followed by against or at) to give expression to one’s objection or disapproval; remonstrate or make a solemn declaration’. This activity would work particularly well in an online environment such as a blog post.

The students should recall a situation where they have been involved in protest (personally or in a wider context) and describe this situation as a first-person description of facts, showing no empathetic involvement. They then identify what this situation had to say about the world as it was and the world as they thought it should be. They explain how they felt about the situation and how they felt about how the world should be.

Activity 2: Children, poignancy and protest 

In this activity the students reflect on the poignancy in each of these texts that relates children and protest:

The challenge is for students to analyse and compare how these texts use language and visual images to evoke pity, sorrow or empathy and thereby protest. A think-pair-share strategy could work effectively here.

Allocate each student a specific text. The students gather information on ideas associated with protest in these texts, establishing both the context and content of the texts as well as the more intuitive elements such as feelings, perceptions and assumptions. In pairs, they identify how the authors use conventions, language forms and features to create poignancy. For example:

The students should form groups to look at each text. They compare how these texts use verbal and visual images of children to protest about the world as it is and the world as it could be. They review and refine their definition of protest, discussing how disapproval and resistance can be expressed in different ways (for example, how protest can be expressed through sorrow, through anger, through determination, through rant, through resistance and so on).

Activity 3: Writing in the form of a memoir

In this activity the students write a memoir reflecting on an injustice drawn from their own childhood: a memory of an event about which they protested. Tell them that memoir is one way that writers look at the past and attempt to make sense of it. A memoir puts the events of a life into perspective for the reader and the writer. It may combine fiction and non-fiction and allows the writer to share her or his truth. Effective memoirs are characterised by:

(Adapted from Nancie Atwell (1998) In the Middle: New understandings about writing, reading and learning, pages 372–92)

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