inorities forced to be the first to colonize Mars. Athletes facing discrimination based on arbitrary physical traits. A world ruled by an oppressive religious organization. In Callie DiSabato’s new Language Arts unit, these student-created science fiction scenarios are turning eighth graders into social justice activists through writing.

“Science fiction is a natural fit with social justice,” declares DiSabato. “I have been blown away by story ideas that students have developed. One who is from South Korea is writing about North Korean oppression and is creating a story world that mirrors the familiar, but is not our own. Another is writing about freedom of speech, and has crafted a world in which noise in all forms is violently oppressed. Still another is writing about the right to an education…in a world where all education takes place underground.”

DiSabato designed the unit around Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of science fiction stories paying tribute to Octavia E. Butler, often referred to as “the grande dame of science fiction.” Butler’s work is rooted in social justice and explores themes including race, class, gender, love, inequality, and oppression. The stories in Octavia’s Brood serve as mentor texts for DiSabato’s students who identify qualities that make up the genre and the techniques that the authors use to deliver their message.

The unit complements students’ work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Social Studies—and the culminating research and presentation project—by providing another lens through which to examine social justice.

“Students work with the understanding that good science fiction speaks to the possible, gives a warning, and reflects something about our own humanity,” DiSabato remarks, noting that the unit builds on previously taught skills like character building, plot and scene development, and writing 3D stories.

The idea to combine social justice with science fiction emerged  last year during a writing workshop led by WT parent and writer Deesha Philyaw. It was solidified after DiSabato’s journey to Poland last summer with Classrooms without Borders to learn more about the Holocaust, another key component of the eighth grade curriculum.

“I took Octavia’s Brood with me,” she recalls. “I found it to be a valuable tool for decompressing after intensive and heavy days visiting sites that included Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Escaping into fiction, but fiction that addressed what we were seeing and learning about in a personal and historical context, was valuable to me.

“Butler’s work revolves around the theme of change,” DiSabato continues. “This idea is not just important when facing large scale horrors like the Holocaust, but also when presented with small opportunities for change. I want students to see themselves as agents for change, and to realize that they, like Butler, are responsible for ‘planting the seeds of change.’”