Note to the teacher:
This lesson helps to set the stage for building a classroom community based on the concept of Ubuntu (roughly translated: interconnectedness). Ubunto, according to the Bantu people of South Africa, is the essence of being human.
The lesson can be used to segue from the summer into the new school year, as it invites students to look at a series of tweets from the news this summer. Students consider these and additional news stories and discuss their impact on communities, close to home and farther away. The activity also invites students to consider the communities they themselves are a part of and the kind of impact they’d like to have on those communities.
We have posted a version of this lesson in past years, updated with news stories each year. Even if students have been introduced to the lesson and the concept of Ubuntu in previous years, we find the concept of interconnectedness useful to return to with each new school year, class, or advisory.
This activity is structured as a circle. See our Introduction to Circles for guidelines on using this process.
Have students seated in a circle.
Write the word UBUNTU on a sheet of paper and place it in the center of the circle. Explain that the concept of Ubuntu is used by the Bantu people of Southern Africa.
Read out the following explanations of the word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and its country’s late President Nelson Mandela:
According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“Ubuntu [is] the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
Nelson Mandela adds the following illustration:
“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but … Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Next, send a talking piece around the circle, inviting students’ reflections on the word Ubuntu as explained by Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
- How do students relate to it?
- What in students’ cultures or communities is similar to or different from this idea of Ubuntu?
Consider also asking:
- What events this summer confirm this concept for you?
Building on what students share, explain that the concept of Ubuntu isn’t just a social idea – it is affirmed by quantum physics, which points to the profound interconnectedness of the universe. The physical world is an inseparable whole, and each action has consequences that reverberate throughout.
Sheldon Berman, founder of Educators for Social Responsibility, defined a community as "a group of people who acknowledge their interconnectedness, have a sense of their common purpose, respect their differences, share in group decision-making as well as in responsibility for the actions of the group, and support each other's growth."
Tell students that we’ll now explore some things that have happened in the world over the summer – and think about how the idea of interconnectivity applies to these events.
In the News, Summer 2019
Print up a selection of the tweets included in this PDF document, and place or post them around the room. Explain that these are tweets about stories in the news this summer. (If there are other events you think should be included, add them.)
Invite students to walk around the room in silence, reading the various tweets. Ask them, next, to stand by a tweet that stands out for them, connects with them, or resonates with them for whatever reason. Consider having students discuss with others standing by the same tweet why they were drawn to it, or find a partner standing by another tweet to exchange thoughts with.
Next, ask students to return to their seats in the circle. Send the talking piece around, inviting students to share the tweet they decided on and explain why they chose it. What do they know about this news story? Who was impacted by it and how? Were they themselves impacted? If so, how?
After everyone has had a chance to share, send the talking piece around a few more times, asking some or all of the following questions:
- Do you have any connections, reflections, or additions to what was shared in the circle just now? What feelings did listening to one another bring up?
- Do you notice any patterns in what was shared?
- Are there other stories you have followed this summer? What stories are missing? Whose stories are missing?
- Do you have direct personal connections to any of these stories?
- Can you think of any indirect connections you have to these stories?
- How does this relate to the idea of Ubuntu that we discussed earlier?
Invite students to go back to the Archbishop Tutu quote from before, in which he said, “You are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”
Ask them to reflect again on Nelson Mandela’s story and his closing words: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Ask students to think of one thing they can do to create a positive impact on their class, advisory, or school community.
Send a talking piece around asking students to share out what kind of positive ripple they’d like to send through their community, and how.