Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? How we answer these questions shapes how we think about, and how we behave toward, ourselves and others. And our answers to those questions are influenced by the society we live in.  This chapter explores the relationship between the individual and society, and how that relationship affects the choices we make.  

Essential Questions

  • What is the relationship between the individual and society?
  • What factors shape our identities? What parts of our identities do we choose for ourselves? What parts are determined for us by others, by society, or by chance?
  • What dilemmas arise when others view us differently than we view ourselves?
  • How do our identities influence our choices and the choices available to us?



Individual & Society

Before exploring our readings on the individual, society, and identity, get familiar with the chapter's central themes and concepts.

Reading 1 of 17

The Bear That Wasn't

Explore identity, conformity, and authority with this modern fable about a bear forced to navigate society's perception of who he is.

Reading 2 of 17

The Danger of a Single Story

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie challenges us to consider the power of stories to influence identity, shape stereotypes, and build paths to empathy (Spanish available).

Reading 3 of 17
Global Immigration

Names and Identity

What does your name say about you? Use this essay by Chinese American teenager Jennifer Wang to explore the relationship between name and identity.

Reading 4 of 17

Finding One's Voice

Julius Lester describes finding his identity in an unexpected place as an African American teenager living in the segregated South (Spanish available).

Reading 5 of 17

The Eye of the Beholder

Question society’s ideas about “beauty” and “normality” with this written adaptation of a provocative episode from the television series, The Twilight Zone.

Reading 6 of 17

Gender and Identity

Read the personal reflections of a mother whose young son has challenged her assumptions and expectations about gender identity (Spanish available).

Reading 7 of 17
Race in US History

Defining Race

Consider the consequences of who defines race through reflections from individuals who have struggled with the US government's legal definition of their race. 

Reading 8 of 17
Race in US History

The Social Reality of Race

Reading 10 of 17

The Blink of an Eye

Learn what new research into human behavior reveals about prejudice, unconscious bias, and our brains' practice of creating categories and expectations for others.

Reading 11 of 17
Race in US History

Little Things Are Big

Puerto Rican writer Jesús Colón describes a time when his awareness of stereotypes influenced his decision-making. 

Reading 12 of 17
Genocide & Mass Violence

Words Matter

Reflect on the power of the words that we attach to people through an Anishinaabe woman’s memory of being called an “Indian” while growing up in Canada (Spanish available).

Reading 13 of 17
Antisemitism & Religious Intolerance

Religion and Identity

Four teenagers from different religious traditions reflect on their experiences of religious belief and belonging.

Reading 14 of 17
Bullying & Ostracism


With his story of a childhood bully, Gary Soto challenges us to look more closely at what lies behind one's behavior. 

Reading 15 of 17
Bullying & Ostracism

The "In" Group

High school student Eve Shalen reflects back on a time in middle school when peer pressure and desire for belonging influenced her decision-making.

Reading 16 of 17
Bullying & Ostracism

Finding Confidence

A young woman describes her journey overcoming an inner bully and fear of being different (Spanish available).

Reading 17 of 17
Global Immigration

One Identity, Multiple Belongings

Consider the danger of forcing people to choose one part of their identity over another with this essay from a Lebanon-born writer living in France.

Analysis & Reflection

Analysis & Reflection

Enhance your students’ understanding of our readings on individual, society, and identity with these follow-up questions and prompts.

Get Our Companion Unit: Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior

Lead your middle and high school students through a thorough examination of the history of the Holocaust. Over the course of the unit, students will learn to:

  • Craft an argumentative essay
  • Explore primary sources, videos, and readings that lead them through an in-depth study of the Holocaust
  • Recognize the societal consequences of "we" and "they" thinking
  • Understand the historical context in which the Nazi party rose to power and committed genocide

Search Our Global Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.