People Who Have Changed Society – How much can young people influence solving the problems facing our society? What makes their voice so powerful?
In this section, students consider these questions as they explore youth gun violence activism at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and discuss the planned school walkouts this spring. They can then go further by looking at youth movements in history and finally see what they can do about things.
People Who Have Changed Society
Let us know how you cope with this teachable moment in your classroom and how we can help. You can ask your class on our Student Opinion Forum: “Do you think it is important for teenagers to participate in political activism?” you can ask them to write their opinion.
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From the University of Texas in 1966, Columbine in 1999, and now Uvalde, the images of school shootings across America are almost indistinguishable.
Ask students to write their answers to the following questions and then discuss them in pairs, small groups or as a whole class:
• Can people under 21 make a real impact on society? For example, can they help change laws or policies on issues that are important to them? How so? What examples can you give from the past or present to support your claim? List as many as possible.
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• What qualities, skills, circumstances, or perspectives are unique to young people—both today and in the past—and how can they help make their voices uniquely powerful?
Listen to ‘Daily’: Students protest gun violence. Demands for gun control have come since the mass shooting, but they haven’t changed much. This time, the surviving students lead the way.
Depending on how much time you want to spend, you can choose from three different options to help students learn more about the activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
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They can watch this video at the top of this lesson; Listen to the first 10 minutes and 20 seconds of The Times’ The Daily podcast embedded above (break during commercial break); or read this New York Magazine article, “War Room: The Teen Strategy that Built an Anti-gun Movement from the Parkland Trauma in the Week.” Or use all three.
Ask them to write on this handout as they watch, listen, or read: What do these students want? What are they doing to achieve this? What are the effects of these actions? Why?
Invite them to come up with ideas in small groups and then mark them on the board as a class.
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• Do you think these students can make a lasting impact on this issue? If yes, why? If not, why not?
If you’d like, you can ask your students to respond to the discussion posted in the Student Opinion section: Can high school students really make a difference in the US gun violence problem?
For example, here’s a comment I received from Jordyn I of Westfield, NJ. Do your students agree?
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I believe that my generation has more power to change the world than any before us. Unlike generations decades ago, we have more information than ever before. Social media is undoubtedly the most powerful means of communication in world history, right at your fingertips. With the push of a button, our words can be shared with millions of people. All you need is one tweet, one post on Instagram or Facebook. And in no time your thoughts are sent everywhere. The Internet has given us the opportunity to change the world from a young age.
The second option? Have students watch a video of students reacting to the Parkland movement via PBS Student Reporting Labs.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students before boarding a bus to Tallahassee on February 20. Related articleCredit… Saul Martinez for The New York Times
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At least two school expulsions due to gun violence are planned this spring. On March 14th, one month after the February 14th Parkland shooting, students and teachers across the country plan to walk out of school for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the attack. The second performance will be held on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. (A third demonstration, the March for Our Lives, will take place on Saturday, March 24.)
While some districts have threatened to suspend students, in New York the mayor has said he supports those who want to participate, even promising that the city will provide appropriate lesson plans. “How old is too young to protest? National gun violence tests schools,” The Times reports that many elementary schools across the country are grappling with whether even kindergarteners should participate.
What is the walkout policy in your classroom, school, or district? How many of your students plan to attend?
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Whether you support the walkouts or not, they are, as the Education Week article puts it, an opportunity to “raise student voices and actions in powerful teaching moments.”
To help, you can think about what your students already know or know about their rights. Ask them to work in small groups to answer these questions, perhaps using a KWL chart:
• Do people under 18 have the same rights as adults? If not, how are they different – and why?
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• Do students under the age of 18 have the same rights in school as outside of school? If not, what examples can you give?
After students share their thoughts and questions, have them read a Newseum article that provides helpful context and history: School Walkouts After Parkland: Are They Protected by the First Law?
Marches, walkouts and sit-ins are symbols of our basic freedoms: the right to speak freely, to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for change. Such demonstrations are reminiscent of powerful moments in the civil rights movement, when groups of youth activists captured the public’s attention and successfully promoted social and political change. The voices of students in the Parkland movement are also reminiscent of the 1969 Supreme Court decision Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, which concerned youth, schools, and freedom of protest.
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Then have students follow up this overview with another Newseum resource, Classroom Exclusions and School Protests: Everything You Need to Know If You’re a Student, Parent, Teacher, School Administrator, or Lawyer or ACLU page color. “Student Rights: Speech, Protests, and Other Protests.” One more source? The new Youth in Front website is a community-created online learning resource with advice from experienced youth activists and allies.
Challenge students to go back to the original questions they answered and correct or add details to what they now understand better. How do they summarize their answers? What questions do they have? Where do they find the answers?
As a final assignment for this unit, students can create a piece for their school’s website or newspaper outlining the rights and responsibilities of students in the context of student activism on gun violence. To do this, they can talk to school or district leaders, teachers and students. familiarize yourself with the school’s written rules; and learn more about the history of student activism in their school or community.
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Students can view and read videos and photos from the March 14 National Schools Walkout: Thousands Protest Against Gun Violence Across. We also conducted a survey of students’ opinions “Do you think it is important for teenagers to participate in political activism?” We sent a question.
KQED’s The Lowdown produced a timeline called Too Young to Vote, Old Enough to Act: A Brief History of Powerful Youth Led Movements. To introduce it, Matthew Green writes:
This is not the first time that high school students have taken the lead in driving national reform. In fact, the fledgling Never Never movement follows a long tradition of middle school and high school students who, despite being too young to vote, have helped lead important social and political movements. More recent (and often overlooked) examples include the youth on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dreamers activists fighting for immigration reform, and most recently the launch of the Standing Rock movement in South Dakota. Join the Native American youth group that gave winter As University of Oklahoma professor Kathryn Shumaker noted in a recent Washington Post op-ed, student protesters have long threatened disciplinary action or, worse, forced the nation into difficult conversations about the future it inherits.
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The Times also covered this topic in the article “7 times in history when students became activists”.
Maggie Astor writes, “History is littered with student-led movements, though usually in college rather than high school. Some succeeded, others were brutally crushed, but the latter still resonates. She noted that “many of these campaigns were liberal in nature: while conservative students announced their presence, their actions
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