Civics in Action Special Issue: Reflection Questions

Write the World Staff

September 2021

This collection from Write the World’s Civics in Action program speaks to a unique moment in history—the onset of a global pandemic, the renewed urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, a fraught presidential election in the United States, caste-based violence in India—yet it also speaks to the many ways 2020 stays with us, living on not only in continuing health, social, and political problems, but in the ways we have internalized to engage with, reflect upon, and think critically about the world and our place within it.


As you read through the writings in this journal, we invite you to think and write about the issues addressed here - from environmental advocacy to racial justice, media representation to voting rights—so that we may continue the conversation, as global citizens, and come together in this unique moment of change.

Some questions you might use to get started with writing or discussion include:


1. In “Representation Matters,” Amy Nam writes this compelling call to action: “We can start conversations with our family and friends on misrepresentation and underrepresentation, racial bias and racism, white supremacy and white privilege . . . Instead of remaining passive recipients of society’s messages, we must become proactive challengers of what we see and what we think.” 


Take five minutes to identify and jot down examples of stereotype-based “misrepresentation” you’ve seen in the media (magazines, news articles, advertisements, movies and TV shows, social media, and more). What do you notice about these examples of misrepresentation, and what do you question? In what ways are these examples similar? Different? 


Next, create an action plan. Amy invites us to “start conversations with our family and friends” about important social issues. Taking into consideration what you’ve learned from this Civics in Action journal, as well as the examples of misrepresentation you just noted, write down 3–5 sentence starters you might use to open discussions with those close to you. How might you begin? What is your objective?


2. In “An Interview with Professor Kurt Barling: The Disease of Racism,” Mili Thakrar calls attention to a recent study that found “more than half of UK employees have witnessed racism in the workplace, [yet] most have failed to report it or even reach out to the victim.” This statistic speaks to the idea of being an “upstander” instead of a bystander. 


Facing History and Ourselves defines an “upstander” as, “A person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.” 


Take a few moments to free-write about a time when you made a choice to be an upstander. What inspired you to take action, and why? What did you see, think, and feel? How did you stand up for another person or group of people? What went well, and what might you do differently next time? Reflecting back on this experience, how do you feel today? 


Next, take a few moments to think and/or write about a time when you could have become an upstander but did not. What factors influenced your decision-making in this missed opportunity? If you were to advise your past self, what might you now say? Take these reflections into consideration and sketch out a list of characteristics and actions that differentiate upstanders from bystanders. (Share this list with a friend to spark a conversation about how we can all become more cognizant upstanders!).


3. In her riveting and reflective open letter entitled “To Me,” Chloe Sow urges fellow Asian-Americans to examine, compare, and contrast various forms of racial power, prejudice, and discrimination. Using Chloe’s letter as a mentor text, consider one of your own identifiers that feels especially important to you—race, religion, gender, sexuality, age, (im)migration status, (dis)ability, and more. Draft your own open letter to other people who share this identifier; what do you want them to know? In the way that Chloe begins her letter with the greeting, “Dear Fellow Asian-Americans,” begin your piece with, “Dear Fellow __________” and let the words flow.


4. International educator and author Homa Tavangar says that becoming a global citizen means “developing a hyper-local muscle.” Alli Lowe’s essay, “Becoming a Hyper-Local By Seeing Our Faults,” introduces this idea of hyperlocality by reminding readers how immersing ourselves in our local communities, from politics to socioeconomic and racial justice initiatives, can deepen and diversify our perspectives, not only on how global issues play out in our local communities, but how the changes we make and the connections we forge in the places we call home can reverberate outwards and lead to change in the world at large. Reflecting on Alli’s essay, consider: In what ways have you exercised your hyper-local muscle in the past? Can you identify a member of your local community (school, town, district, etc.) who has a particularly strong hyper-local muscle? If so, what qualities does this person possess? What actions do they take to keep that muscle strong? 


Next, jot down a list of 5–10 questions you have about your local community. What do you notice and wonder about the place you call home? Have you always wondered how your town’s recycling rate ranks on a national level? Or how your local homeless shelter is funded? Or who makes decisions about snow days in your school district? Or why certain areas of your city have easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables? No question is too small. Inquiry is the first step to action, so spread your questions far and wide, then select one or two to investigate further. Who might you talk to? What might you read? Where in your hometown might you go to uncover the answers to your questions—and insights into the social issues behind them?


5. In his essay, “CoronApartheid: Racial Disparities and the Need for Empathy During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Joseph Mullen offers an in-the-moment snapshot of the ways in which the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic underlined the deep health inequities that plague populations around the world. Considering the year that has unfolded since the time of Joseph’s writing, pen your own poem, essay, personal narrative, or other piece of writing furthering this exploration of the intersections between the pandemic and systemic inequities. How has the vaccine rollout add new perspective to the issues Joseph addresses? What does this racial disparity look like in your corner of the globe? How, in your eyes, can we—as global citizens—not only learn about and raise awareness of health disparities, but take action towards changing them? Share your vision with the world.

If you’d like to know more about how you can use Write the World in the classroom, please contact us at hello@writetheworld.com.