“It’s Not Fair!”
When uttered by a 5- or 6-year-old, this refrain often may be the result of some deeply felt personal injustice, like a too-early bedtime or having to share a precious toy with someone else. For students in Abby and Dayna’s kindergarten class, the message was far more global in scope.
During their spring bicycle project, the students learned that there is no Tour de France— perhaps the most famous bicycle race in the world—for women.
“There was just a huge reaction,” said Abby. “They were really upset.”
The students had been learning about people responding to injustices and making a difference during Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March.
“We talked a lot about making things right when you see something that’s wrong and just talking about how one person can make a difference,” said Abby.
Yet, the students still had a hard time comprehending that this type of inequality exists today.
Dayna said, “They didn’t fully believe us because they said, ‘Oh, like they can now, right?’ Every other thing we had read about, like women voting, women wearing pants, women riding bikes in the first place, had been fixed. I think they thought all the work had been done and that there was nothing left to do.”
As the project progressed, the students continued to bring up the perceived injustice during discussions in the classroom. Abby and Dayna felt that they needed to help the students find an outlet for their passion and energy.
“When you teach ‘when you see something wrong, you should do something,’ we cannot say we’re not going to do something,” said Abby. “We had to show them that we were going to make a difference—or else we’re hypocrites.”
Anger to Activism
But how could the students register their concerns with a huge organization in a foreign land— particularly during a pandemic?
They considered writing letters, but the logistics of sending those to race organizers in France seemed somewhat impractical to the class.
Creating protest signs, as the students had seen in books and videos, seemed more doable. However, sending the signs to France was not an option, and COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings would prevent large numbers of people from seeing them at school and in the wider community.
“Normally, we may have just taken those posters, hung them in a place (at school) and then we would have had a culmination,” said Dayna. The parents could then view the posters while the students explained their messages.
Then, it occurred to Abby and Dayna that the students could make the protest signs and record short messages in a video to share with the parents and the larger Duke School community.
“We showed them signs from history and how they’re short and how they’re to the point,” said Dayna. “We had each kid come up with their own slogan. I think they felt really empowered.”
The completed video was posted to the Duke School Facebook page, where it was extremely successful with thousands of views.
Additionally, Sarah Dwyer, Duke School’s marketing and communications associate, suggested sharing the video with several international women’s cycling groups and advocacy organizations.
The InternationElles, a group of 10 women cyclists from around the world, responded immediately, posting the video on its own website. British team member Lou Gibson even sent the students a thank you video.
“She was really excited to see that someone else cared,” said Abby. “Their whole organization … this is what they’re fighting for. For them to see that kindergarteners in a totally different country cared, they really loved it.”
Local television news channel ABC11 was next to pick up the story and featured excerpts from the video on its evening news broadcasts. The students were seeing that their message had, indeed, made an impact.
No one imagined that a bicycle project would lead to an experience in social activism. Dayna and Abby are quick to credit their students as the driving force.
“Listen to your kids. You might have a plan in mind, but for us, it went in a totally different direction,” said Abby. “And it just kept unfolding. It was magical to watch it.”
The flexibility of Duke School’s project approach was also a key factor.
“Duke School allows you the freedom to take the learning where it needs to go—where it organically is moving towards,” said Dayna.
“I think people underestimate 5- and 6-year-olds and what they are feeling and how big those feelings are,” said Abby. “Just like the way adults feel angry about inequities and injustice, they definitely care, too. And they’re not too young to talk about it.”
Dayna added, “It wasn’t just that they realized it wasn’t fair. There’s still work to be done. And I don’t think you’re ever too young to realize that.”