Youth Taking Charge!
Placing Student Activism in Historical Context
In the weeks following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students from Parkland met with government leaders in Tallahassee and Washington, DC, took to social media in a call for school safety and new gun control legislation, and met with students from Chicago who have been advocating for these same measures for years. After that meeting, Parkland student activist Emma González observed, “Those who face gun violence on a level that we have only just glimpsed from our gated communities have never had their voices heard in their entire lives the way that we have in these few weeks alone.” In addition to speaking with lawmakers and the media, Parkland student activists took to social media to involve youth nationwide in the National School Walkout (#NationalSchoolWalkout) on March 14 at 10:00 a.m. for 17 minutes and the March for Our Lives (#AMarch4OurLives) on March 24 in Washington, DC.
To start the conversation, use the New York Times article 7 Times in History When Students Turned to Activism as a basis for helping your students place into historical context the efforts of Parkland survivors and youth activists across the country to raise awareness and call for change in school safety measures and gun legislation. Teachers need not endorse any particular viewpoint or policy proposal in the current debate over the availability of firearms to help students explore the power of young people to galvanize public opinion and political support behind issues they care about.
If before teaching one or more of the activities listed below you would like ideas for how to foster civil discourse and create a classroom environment where all of your students can develop and voice their ideas, read Facing History Associate Program Director for Staff Development Laura Tavares’ article Nine Ways to Help Students Discuss Guns and Violence.
Ask students to read Maggie Astor’s New York Times article 7 Times in History When Students Turned to Activism. Consider using the Read Aloud and Annotating and Paraphrasing Sources teaching strategies to help students interact with the text in meaningful ways. Then discuss the following questions in groups or as a class:
If you would like your students to research one of the historical moments in greater depth, divide the class into eight groups of 2-4 students. Assign each group one historical case study from the New York Times article, 7 Times in History When Students Turned to Activism. (For example, one group will read about the Greensboro sit-ins, another will read about the university uprisings in 1968, etc.) The eighth group will read the Los Angeles Times article, Parkland student activists should study the East L.A. Blowouts that launched a movement in California. After reading aloud the introduction of the New York Times article with the class, guide groups through the following steps.
Note: Students will need to use a computer or be provided with printed copies of at least one article linked to their historical event in the New York Times.
Next instruct groups to read aloud the short section of 7 Times in History When Students Turned to Activism that corresponds with their historical event and discuss the following questions with their group members. Depending on their event, students might not be able to answer all of the questions.
Finally, have each group present its historical event to the class and discuss the following questions as a whole group:
To introduce your students to a lesser known but no less significant moment when students turned to activism, read the Los Angeles Times article Parkland student activists should study the East L.A. Blowouts that launched a movement in California and choose from the questions and activities above to discuss the article and draw connections between this historical event, the seven moments from the New York Times article, and the efforts of the Parkland students activists.
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