Although much progress has been made in ensuring fairness since Robert Kennedy’s times, we are today still plagued by certain injustices, especially in certain workplaces within the United States and throughout the world. The following lesson ideas and resources will allow students to explore the status and impact of three such areas: child labor abuses; the debate over the minimum wage in the United States and the continuing struggle to fully assure rural farm workers’ rights.
- What improvements have been made in labor practices since Kennedy’s time?
- How are workers’ rights and fairness typically ensured within the work place? Are these always accomplished?
- What areas of unfairness remain? How might these be improved?
- How do opinions differ on this issue? How might these differences be resolved?
You might want to consider setting the stage for working through the resources on this page by discussing any or all of the following quotes with students. Ask them to read each aloud, then discuss what Kennedy meant by these words. Do they agree or disagree with him? Share examples of how his message relates to today’s world.
Living in a time of ‘moral crisis’, Kennedy passionately called upon youth to become actively engaged in taking on issues and thus creating a more promising future. As part of that process, he encouraged active, constructive and respectful debate and dissent. This, he deeply believed, was “at the very heart of the American process”.
As students discuss the following quotes, encourage them to discuss and debate any differences of opinion as a means of fostering deeper analysis and understanding.
There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the bomb or the shot in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor…This is the slow destruction of children by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
The ultimate relationship between justice and law will be an eternal subject for speculation and analysis. But it may be said that in a democratic society law is the form which free men give to justice. The glory of justice and the majesty of the law are created not just by the Constitution–nor by the courts–nor by the officers of the law–nor by the lawyers–but by the men and women who constitute our society-who are protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.
Laws and speeches do not build schools. They do not put capable teachers in the schools. And they do not give children the food, the clothing, the books and the encouragement they need if they are to stay in the shiny new school we build. Laws by themselves will not make a land reform–if farmers do not also have access to credit and technical assistance and fertilizers. Laws and economic aid and reforms by themselves will not create jobs–unless someone is determined to use these economic resources to create the jobs. Laws by themselves will not insure farm workers the minimum wage–unless we act to insure that the laws are enforced. And all our economic, social, and material progress will be for nothing if we do not at the same time move toward increasing freedom, toward a society where all can freely speak and act to share in the decisions which shape their lives.
Justice is land for those who live by farming–and all the world has seen that free farmers on their own land are the surest means to an abundant agriculture. Justice is a decent education for every child–and only with education for all is it possible to create a modern economy…
RFK’s Message Still Matters
The following resources are offered to spark further discussion about areas of injustice in today’s world and how these might be overcome:
Child labor abuses remain tragically prevalent throughout the world. The following links offer a variety of lesson plans and resources related to this important topic:
1. Currently, there is a debate waging in the United States about what the minimum wage – the minimum rate of pay should be for all workers. The following article from The New York Times explains this. After reading and discussing the article, you might want to explore the lesson that follows.
While some injustices against migrant workers have been overcome since Kennedy’s time, others still remain. Read and discuss the following statement by Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry, who continues her father’s work by standing up for farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida. Then read about how young leaders waged a campaign to take on the same cause. Ask students: What cause might they care enough about to take a stand against? (Refer to the Take Action of this page for further recourses and suggestions.)
http://rfkcenter.org/statement-by-kerry-kennedy-on-the-immokalee-workers-mcdonalds-agreement-3?lang=en of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.”
Visit the website for the recently released documentary Food Chains to learn more about current challenges facing farmworkers in the US:
Speak Truth to Power: Become inspired by defenders taking action today
Speak Truth To Power, a project of Robert Kennedy Human Rights, is a multifaceted global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urges them to take action. Issues range from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation.
Explore the story of STTP defender Librada Paz
Librada Paz defends the dignity of immigrant farmworkers in the United States. At the age of 15, she left her indigenous community in southern Mexico in search of an opportunity to improve life for her family. She eventually made her way to New York where she found work in the fields picking vegetables and fruits. Working conditions were harsh and Librada labored in the fields ten hours a day seven days a week just to survive. For ten years, she experienced the harassment, abuse and discrimination that prevail in U.S. agriculture where the dignity and rights of farmworkers are routinely ignored
Through her strength and passion, Librada became a leading voice for immigrant workers in fields and farms in New York and across the United States. Together with the Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM), Librada played a key role in the passage of laws requiring that farmworkers be provided with drinking water and restrooms – basic necessities long denied.
Robert Kennedy deeply believed that each individual has the responsibility and capacity to make a positive difference. He said:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
Click here to learn more
Become a Defender
Ask students to share examples of what they might already have done – or noticed others doing – to make a difference, even if in small ways. Students can refer to the Become A Defender unit of Speak Truth to Power for inspiration and guidance on how they can take positive action toward fighting injustice.
RFK’s Work Lives On
Robert Kennedy’s unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and opposing attacks on civil liberties is central to his ongoing legacy.
Watch the following clip and Robert Kennedy’s daughters describe how their mother and Robert Kennedy’s wife, Ethel has carries on his work:
To further realize Robert Kennedy’s dream for a more just and peaceful world, in 1968, Ethel Kennedy along with Robert Kennedy’s family and friends founded Robert Kennedy Human Rights, one of the foremost human rights’ organizations.