Challenging Assumptions

Bullying and violence don’t stop at the human door any more than they stop at the race or gender door.

What Is 'Challenging Assumptions'?

Challenging Assumptions is TeachKind’s free, new social justice curriculum designed to educate and empower students in grades 9–12 to challenge societal norms and inspire compassion and empathy toward others regardless of species, race, gender, sexual identity, age, or ability. With these materials, students examine the intersections of many forms of prejudice, synthesize information from the historical framework that they’ve studied throughout their schooling, and use new information to do the following:

  • Examine current moral dilemmas, such as speciesism
  • Develop higher-order thinking skills, focusing on the theme of the systematic “othering” of and discrimination against groups of humans as well as members of other species
  • Explore the reasons for considering all living, feeling beings in the fight for social justice

Challenging Assumptions sparks lively discussion among students with a wide range of perspectives—especially among members of Gen Z, who are generally highly motivated by social justice issues, including animal rights. The curriculum includes a groundbreaking new video featuring the firsthand stories of two activists of color. It explores the ways our everyday language and actions can either reinforce or challenge ideas of power and supremacy.

Access all the components needed to implement this curriculum:

Watch the 'Challenging Assumptions' Video

Part 1: Exploring Speciesism and Discrimination

Part 1 of Challenging Assumptions provides students with an overarching theme of social justice to guide their learning throughout the year as well as basic knowledge of the concepts explained in the video.

The following lessons are designed to help students move beyond any assumptions that they may make about other sentient beings and become more perceptive, thoughtful, and analytical about the reasons why humans engage in certain behavior. Implementing these lessons can serve as a preliminary step in helping students determine what actions are in line with their belief system and how society can challenge speciesism—the belief that all other animal species are inferior to our own.

In Lesson 1, students think critically about and discuss the abstract concept of social justice as well as the parallels between animal abuse and human abuse. They also examine the causes and effects of discrimination.

In Lesson 2, students examine their personal beliefs and behavior, identifying areas in which they experience cognitive dissonance (which is defined as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially with regard to behavioral decisions and attitude change”) and analyzing their opposing attitudes and actions. Next, they evaluate examples of discordant beliefs and behavior in society as a whole, using their understanding of facts and opinions to challenge the assumption that animals are ours to use.

In Lesson 3, students define and deconstruct the speciesist mindset, identifying fallacies of logic in this way of thinking, along with solutions to it.

In Lesson 4, students examine the intersection of many forms of prejudice. They synthesize historical information and use new information to explore current moral dilemmas, focusing on the theme of the systematic “othering” of and discrimination against groups of humans as well as members of other species.

Part 2: Incorporating Compassion Into the Curriculum

Part 2 of Challenging Assumptions can be used throughout the school year as you continue to teach the same lessons you’re already teaching, using the standards that are mandated in your state. In this section of the curriculum, we break down the subjects of English language arts and social studies into broad themes, such as reading and writing or civics and economics, and provide recommended resources from our website along with suggestions from classroom teachers on incorporating them into existing units of study. For example, our debate kits can be used in a writing unit on persuasive arguments or a research unit on evaluating sources.

Part 3: Service-Learning Project

Part 3 of Challenging Assumptions will guide you through overseeing a student-led service-learning project. Using knowledge gained in Part 1 and Part 2 of the curriculum, students work collaboratively to identify an animal-related problem in their community, brainstorm possible solutions, and plan and execute one of those solutions in order to effect measurable change. Next, they assess the effectiveness of their chosen solution and identify ways of improving outcomes as well as ways for individuals to continue making an effort to help solve the problem.

Looking for more ways to teach empathy for animals? Check out TeachKind’s free resources for students in grades 9–12:

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