Last week, my SS 9 class began learning about the Philosophes from the French Revolution (Montague, Rousseau, Voltaire, de Gouges, etc). I had been looking forward to begin this part of the unit because of the big take away to be learned from the philosophers. I was super excited to have students revel in how powerful ideas can be, how compelling thoughts can be in creating ideological change and resulting in physical change. Wow. One particular philosopher that I was thrilled to have them learn more about was Olympe de Gouges, a champion for gender equality and female rights. Indeed, de Gouges’ contributions to the conversation around gender parity goes beyond just French history. As a feminist, I was intrigued to see how my students would react to such a revolutionary figure. My two ss 9 classes are quite different: one class is heavily female based while the other is the opposite. As we did an exit slip to conclude the class, students had a chance to note down one of the philosophers they had learned about and the idea they had proposed. Students explained why that particular idea resonated with them. To my surprise the most prevalent response was around gender equality. I was impressed by the way the way students vocalized the importance of female and male equality, and sympathy for anything less than that.
Students were assigned the task of taking their favourite song they were listening to, and changing the lyrics to better reflect those of the Enlightenment: equality, freedom of religion and expression, responsible government, good leadership, having an opinion, dissent against inequality, and gender equality. It wasn’t surprising to me based on my conversation with the girls in my first class that they were keen to produce new lyrics around Beyonce songs (and I was looking forward to it!).. but I was curious to see how the other students would present their knowledge.
I was so impressed by the students and what they handed in for two reasons. 1) They had articulated their understandings of the big ideas we learned in such a creative way in their re-writes. 2) Many of them chose to focus on gender equality in their songs. Some of the guys chose rap songs (Drake’s Legend, Biggy’s Juicy, J Cole’s No Role Modelz)- and yes, I’m a big fan, but what made so proud was that they chose to edit out some of those original lyrics that objectified women and replaced them with feminist ideas.
(And yes, there might be hope for the next generation if they’re listening to Biggie!!)
In our conversations this past week about change, one student insightfully and perhaps a little frustratedly put up his hand as we were doing a simulation where students had an opportunity to critique a current school rule or issue and propose a 5 step plan to change it. He said, “You guys talk about change like it’s so easy! But it’s not!!”, and he’s right. Change takes time. And we talked about this. We talked about how Olympe de Gouges began the conversation around female equality in the 18th century, and while the world has come a long way since then, not every self-identifying female has access to enjoy rights. There’s still a long way to go. But, what’s reassuring to me is that at the end of the day, even if these ss9 students don’t remember the years of the French Revolution or when each philosophe lived and died, if they walk away with these ideas about wanting equality, valuing their voice, recognizing their position in their worlds… then, that’s more than enough time keep me tided over with hope and excitement for what change their generation can bring.