Australian schoolchildren. Photo: Nicole Clements/Caritas Australia

Subsidiarity and Participation


How can we contribute to a more just and fair world?

Teacher Introduction

By the end of this unit, students will have explored the topic of rights and duties, and will have an understanding of political and social systems. They will explore how people in positions of authority have a responsibility to care for people and work for the common good, and how we can contribute through active participation. Students will gain an understanding of (in)justice, and investigate when it is right to act against injustice.

Teachers, before you start:

  1. Watch the CST ‘Subsidiarity and Participation’ film and familiarise yourself with the pause point and other stopping points listed in this lesson suggestion.
  2. Download the various resources referenced at the bottom of this page (worksheets, slides, etc.) and have them ready to go on your computer/interactive whiteboard.
  3. Familiarise and decide on the use of online or app technologies.

Learn - Focus

Rights and Duties.

ALL years

Watch Caritas Australia’s ‘Subsidiarity and Participation’ film.

Teacher’s note: You can stop at the pause point and encourage students to share their responses with a partner, but we will go into the pause point in more depth throughout this learning experience.

Introduce the Church’s teaching on rights and responsibilities:

The protection of human dignity is the foundation upon which an understanding of rights and responsibilities rests. The human person, made in God’s image and likeness, is born into a community of relationships and is social by nature. Rights and responsibilities are seen as the demands of upholding and defending human dignity in the social, economic and political spheres.

Rights begin with the most fundamental of rights, the right to life and include the right to those things necessary for basic human survival. The responsibilities begin with responsibilities to one another, to one’s family and to the larger society. (Source: Education for Justice)

Years 7-8

Display Slide 2. Students prioritise the nine rights that are most important to them from this list of rights that comprise the Church’s body of Catholic Social Teaching and then rank them.

Students re-do the activity from the perspective of a favela resident.

Using the ‘What makes you say that?’ understanding/thinking routine, students justify their responses.

Teacher’s note:  This routine helps students describe what they see or know and asks them to build explanations. It promotes evidential reasoning (evidence-based reasoning) and because it invites
students to share their interpretations, it encourages students to understand alternatives and multiple perspectives.

In most cases, the routine takes the shape of a whole class or group conversation around an object or topic, but can also be used in small groups or by individuals. When first introducing the routine, the teacher may scaffold students by continually asking the follow-up questions after a student gives an interpretation. Over time students may begin to automatically support their interpretations with evidence without even being asked, and eventually, students will begin to internalize the routine.

The two core questions for this routine can be varied in a number of ways depending on the context: What do you know? What do you see or know that makes you say that?

Sometimes you may want to precede students' interpretation by using a question of description:
What do you see? or What do you know?

When using this routine in a group conversation it may be necessary to think of alternative forms of documentation that do not interfere with the flow of the discussion. One option is to record class discussions using video or audio. Listening and noting students' use of the language of thinking can help you see their development. Student’s words and language can serve as a form of documentation that helps create a rubric for what makes a good interpretation or for what constitutes good reasoning.

Another option is to make a chart or keep an ongoing list of explanations posted in the classroom. As interpretations develop, note changes and have further discussion about these new explanations. These lists can also invite further inquiry and searches for evidence. Other options for both group and individual work include students documenting their own interpretations through sketches, drawings, models and writing, all of which can be displayed and revisited in the classroom. (Harvard, 2009, Visible Thinking Handbook)

Years 9-10

In small groups, students read pp 3-4 and 6-8 of the worksheet on Rights and Responsibilities, and then answer the following questions:

  1. Why has the appeal to “rights” become an important and vital part of the Church’s social teaching?
  2. What rights are the most important to you? What rights do you think are most important to people who are living in poverty around the world?
  3. What have you heard in the news lately about the violations of human rights in different parts of the world? Why do you think this is global news?
  4. What are recent signs of hope that indicate that the global community is moving toward a more just world where all peoples’ rights are respected?

ALL years

Display slide 3Introduce the inquiry: As a class, we are going to explore what the CST principles of subsidiarity and participation are, and how we can contribute to a more just and fair world by enacting these principles in our everyday life. An understanding of our rights and responsibilities is central to this since these are the rights that people in positions of authority must uphold, and that we must uphold through our own actions – both in our daily life and in holding people in power to account.

Display the poster in the classroom so that it is visible throughout the module. You could use the quotes on the poster as extra stimulus material when introducing the inquiry and ‘big question’.

Learn - Explore

Who’s in charge? Understanding the system.

Years 7-8

Display slide 4. Explain that this diagram demonstrates how personal rights are underpinned by social and institutional rights, without which the personal right would not be upheld. Every personal right has a concurrent social and institutional right.

Using the personal right that students placed at the top of their diamond ranking system, students complete the Caritas 'Levels of Rights' worksheet to determine the corresponding social and institutional rights. Students can use the United Nations Universal Human Rights Declaration website to research their rights.

Years 9-10

Starter activity-What is the structure of the Australian political system?

Ask students to name the institutions that make decisions on our behalf.


  • Local council
  • State government
  • Australian (Federal) government

Main activity-What do these institutions do on our behalf?

Ask the students to name five of the powers of these institutions. e.g:

Local government:
- Rubbish Collection/Recycling Centres
- Provision and maintenance of physical infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and sewerage
- Library services
- Town planning and development approvals
- Child care

State government:
- Transport
- Education
- Health systems
- Consumer laws
- State-run amenities

Australian government:
- Legislation
- Taxation
- Trade, imports, and exports
- Broadcasting laws
- ABC TV and Radio


Extension/homework task

In groups, students choose a contemporary issue of injustice and collaboratively prepare a submission to a government body arguing a just response. Students can explore a number of global issues on the Caritas Australia website, and/or focus on the Brazilian case study from the film.

Learn - Demonstrate

How people in positions of authority have to care for people, and how we contribute through participation

Years 7-8

Students examine MDF’s model of subsidiarity and participation in action. Re-watch a section of Caritas Australia’s ‘Subsidiarity and Participation’ film (01:12-02:02). Then, using the ‘Making It Fair: Now, Then, Later: Finding actions’ thinking routine (see below for instructions), students identify and evaluate specific actions that might make a situation fair.

Teacher’s note: This routine involves students in generating and evaluating options. Initially the focus should be on an open generation of ideas without evaluation. Later, students evaluate their ideas and justify them. This routine helps students see that fairness and unfairness are not merely judgments that one makes but that these situations also invite direct actions by finding ways to repair, prevent, or preclude unfairness.

1. Frame the task.

Nominate students to be:

  • MDF representative
  • Favela leader (one per favela represented in the meeting)
  • The young leader from each favela

The rest are favela residents.

Present and clarify an issue of fairness: you could choose one that MDF works on with favela residents (water, electricity, sewerage, land rights), or decide on your own issue that you think would be relevant.

Explain that, through this activity, the class will be thinking about things to do to make the situation fairer: now, in the future, or to change the situation so it would have been fair in the past.

2. Brainstorm. Ask students to brainstorm ideas for things they might do to “make it fair.” They must think and respond in their given role.

3. Sort. Sort the list into actions that relate to making the situation fair in the past, now, or for the future.

4. Evaluate. Ask students to pick one idea from the list that they think has the most merit and expand on it, either verbally or in writing.

Years 9-10

Display slide 5 and discuss the two key understandings of this principle. In pairs, students express what questions or puzzles they have about this definition. Provide a space (e.g. whiteboard/piece of paper) where they can write their responses, so that all the questions from the class are visible while students prepare the next section of the activity.

Teacher’s note: There is further information in the slide notes regarding the role of the State.

In groups, students research and prepare for a class debate on the proposal that ‘individuals/institutions should be able to do whatever they like’. (Ideally the class would be split into four groups: two on one issue and two on another, one for and one against the proposal for each issue).


• Smoking- individual choice vs. collective impact
• Profit before people/the environment- could choose examples such as:

    o Forced evictions in the favelas in Brazil to make way for hotel complexes
    o Gasploitation – the difference in negotiations and compensation for traditional owners according to how they are treated by the state and the gas companies. (cf. Eureka Street article)

Students could use the following ten critical thinking questions to research around their chosen issue [NB: the term ‘land rights’ can be changed to whichever issue they are exploring]:

  1. Where in the world are land rights an issue?
  2. What are the effects of land rights on people in São Paulo, Brazil?
  3. What things can people do in relation to the issue of land rights in São Paulo, Brazil?
  4. Who has the power to make decisions about land rights in São Paulo, Brazil?
  5. Who does not have the power to make decisions about land rights in São Paulo, Brazil?
  6. Are there people who will benefit from land rights in São Paulo, Brazil?
  7. Are there people who will lose out from land rights in São Paulo, Brazil?
  8. How does your life/work link to land rights?
  9. How do we talk about land rights in our community?
  10. How can the effects of land rights be shared equally?


Understandings of injustice – when should we act?

Years 7-8

Students conduct a ‘Scripture hunt’ to complete the Caritas worksheet on Jesus' understanding of injustice. Using the list given in the worksheet,  students find the examples of times when Jesus challenged attitudes and perceptions using an online Bible, and determine what perceptions, attitudes and injustices he was challenging and why.

Debrief: As a class, discuss what has been learnt from this Scripture hunt. You could refer back to the Brazil case study and discuss how Caritas and MDF are working in partnership to challenge the injustices that favela residents face. How? Why?

Teacher’s note: This discussion should lead to the conclusion that it is our moral duty as Christians to challenge authority when it is matter of injustice.

Years 9-10

Draw a tug of war diagram on the board (or tape a piece of rope on the wall and use Post-its to make it more dramatic – see below example).

Conduct the class debate. While two groups are debating, the two groups watching and listening are tasked with writing individual points on post-it notes. Explain that students can add two kinds of things. One is evidence – tugs in the Yes, True direction or the No, False direction. The other thing to add is a question about the tug of war itself, a question that asks for more information or about "what if" we tried this or we tried that, what would the results be?

Finish the lesson by asking students what new ideas they have about the debate question (the proposal). Can we decide now? Do some people lean one way and some the other? Is the best answer in a "grey area" – most of the time true but not always, or half the time? How could we settle it if we had to?


Taking up God’s invitation to show his love to others – to love and care for myself and others.

Students complete pages 11-13 of the Caritas CST Reflection Journal.

As a class, reflect on and discuss your thoughts on the following related Church teaching:

“A well-ordered human society requires that men recognize and observe their mutual rights and duties. It also demands that each contributes generously to the establishment of a civic order in which rights and duties are more sincerely and effectively acknowledged and fulfilled.

It is not enough, for example, to acknowledge and respect every man's right to the means of subsistence if we do not strive to the best of our ability for a sufficient supply of what is necessary for his sustenance.”
Peace on Earth, #31-32