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It's Just Not Fair!

Traidcraft Assembly. To demonstrate our instinct for justice and fairness.

by An Assembly from Traidcraft (Traidcraft Fortnight: 3-16 March 2003)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To demonstrate our (forgotten) instinct for justice and fairness.

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly uses an unequal tug-of-war activity inspired by the words of Brazilian educator and human rights activist Paolo Friere: 'In the struggle between the weak and the strong, to do nothing is not to remain neutral: it is to hand victory to the strong' (paraphrased).
  • The assembly was first devised for use at Traidcraft's 21st Birthday Conference in 2000 but could be freely adapted to illustrate or highlight other areas of injustice (e.g. bullying).
  • Materials: A length of rope strong enough not to snap under the strain! The length will depend upon available space and the numbers you expect to be involved.
  • Arrangements: Hide the rope to begin with. Prepare some PE mats for the tug-of-war and ensure that you know how to direct this activity safely. Be prepared to step in if it looks as though anyone is going to get hurt. It would be a good idea to position staff at each side of the tug-of-war.


  1. Explain that you need help. Ask two of the smallest/youngest children in the school to come out and stand at one side of you. Then pick four of the biggest/strongest children to come out and stand at your other side. Tell them you're going to have a tug-of-war, and produce the rope.

  2. Get the two groups to turn and face one another and take up the strain. Shout: Pull! (It's important that the 'strong' team uses its advantage!)

  3. (This next section may not work in your school - a combination of factors including teacher authority, children's innate sense of fairness and the popularity of the chosen individuals, may prevent it from working out as predicted. If you have doubts, skip this part.)

    Say to everyone: 'Don't just sit there! Help them!' It's vital not to specify who they should help. In all probability the majority will do nothing (good); one or two may join the weaker team (good!); someone may join the stronger team (also good!).

  4. When it is obvious the weaker team has lost the contest, call a halt. Thank the teams and ask them to return to their seats.

  5. Ask the participants how they felt. Children and young people, particularly, get very indignant at unfairness and injustice and may very well reply that they didn't think it was fair. Ask them in what way it was unfair. After all, they didn't ask you to explain the rules of this particular contest to them beforehand, so what made it unfair?

    Some on the winning side may also feel uncomfortable about their all-too-obvious advantage over weaker opponents. So why didn't they let go or stop pulling? Why did they stick to the rules instead of changing them?

    Why, when you said, 'Help them!' did some people join the losing side? Rationally it would make more sense to join the winning side. We have an instinct for 'fairness' or 'justice' and we feel uncomfortable when we see people being bullied or victimized in some way.

    And why did some do nothing? Was it lack of opportunity? (sitting at the back - too much effort required to come forward); embarrassment? (I'll look silly or we don't do that sort of thing here!); the it's-someone-else's-problem syndrome (those at the front will help).

  6. Refer to the Paulo Friere quotation: 'In the struggle between the weak and the strong, to do nothing is not to remain neutral: it is to hand victory to the strong.'

    Or the quotation from the eighteenth-century English philosopher Edmund Burke: 'All that is required for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.'

    Or you could tell the following story. Its origin is uncertain but variants of it occur in several developing countries:

    A poor boy lived with his widowed mother and every day he would take what little food they could spare to the market to sell. Every day one of the bigger, older boys would pounce on him, throw him to the ground and sit on him to stop him getting to the market. Passers-by would sometimes stop and offer to drag the bigger boy off, but the poor boy would stop them, saying, 'No. Let him be, he has a lesson to learn. Until he allows me to rise and go to the market, he can neither rise nor go the market himself.'

Time for reflection

Dear God,
Thank you that you have given us a sense of justice and fairness.
Help us to think about being as fair as possible in everything we do.


'Make us worthy, Lord' (Come and Praise, 94)

Publication date: March 2003   (Vol.5 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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