“Even if you get teased, too, for being an ally or an advocate, it’s worth it.” That’s the message from students in Elizabeth Kleinrock ’05’s 4th grade class. Liz, her students, and her curriculum about advocates, allies, and bystanders are the subject of a 10-minute web documentary that shows the power of tackling big social justice questions with little kids.
After graduating from Washington University, Liz began teaching with Americorps at public schools in Oakland, California, before pursuing a graduate program at UCLA that focuses on social justice as part of preparing teachers to work in urban schools.
Now she’s a teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School, Silverlake, in Los Angeles, where a documentary film crew recently followed her class as they learned the difference between being passive in the face of injustices like bullying or discrimination and standing up for someone in the moment or for something as part of a movement.
Liz developed the ally unit, as well as units on activism and protest, in response to the headlines of 2016. Her lessons begin with what the students already know about a subject or might have heard in the news and expand from there to touch on the Black Lives Matter movement, the poetry of Maya Angelou, Tupac Shakur’s lyrics, and Ai Wei Wei’s art to illustrate the many avenues available for making a difference.
Liz says she was inspired to pursue social justice in the classroom by a commitment to giving back that was first honed at Sidwell Friends. “Since I started in pre-kindergarten, I would say that the very strong emphasis on community service and philanthropy and giving back was something that’s always been very present in my life,” she says. As a result, she adds, community service is an integral part of how she views the world.
She wants to pass that on and to give her students a way to process not only what they hear on the news but also the difficult situations they come across in daily life. As an example, Liz cites a student who overheard a racist remark but didn’t know how to react beyond just feeling uncomfortable.
“There was clearly that desire of wanting to do the right thing but not knowing what the right thing in that situation was,” she says. “Even if I never get to see the benefits of this work, I hope that they manifest themselves later in life for these kids.”