In an inspiring TEDx talk entitled “Young People are the Now,” educator Elizabeth Robbins laments that many of us tend to underestimate students’ abilities to lead positive change in our society. However, if we look at history and current events, we can see that many young people today are proving that notion wrong, demonstrating that they care passionately about various issues that affect them and their communities by taking action towards social justice. Historically, young people have been on the forefront of every big social movement in our nation’s history.
Youth Leading Change Today
The Parkland kids are only one example of youth who are committed to working for change, and advocating for common sense gun laws represents only one issue that is activating young people right now. There are countless young people today fighting for social justice, by organizing for such causes as gender equity, access to education, protection of the environment, civil rights and human rights.
The student activists from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School have publicly credited their teachers and the debate program in their school district for preparing them with skills they needed to research, develop, articulate and argue their positions on gun control. Their community is continuing to support them, providing them with resources and tools to make their voices heard and to lead a movement. And these young people are allowing themselves to benefit from experienced adults who are guiding them in navigating the waters of change, learning how to lobby in Congress, meet with legislators, and becoming instrumental in creating policy.
Youth Inspiring Each Other
Young people who believe in their power to create change are inspiring each other to be activists. In Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave and Brilliant Young Women, author Kate Schatz tells the stories of a variety of today’s young leaders. High school social activist Chanice Lee, wrote Young Revolutionary: A Teens Guide to Activism, to train young people who don’t know where to start to find support, mentorship, and leadership. She and other young leaders are also providing advice to their peers about preventing “activist burnout.”
In addition to the inspiration, confidence, support, and resources that young people are giving each other, Elizabeth Robbins insists that “we must become the facilitators and celebrators of youth voice and presence and power.” Angela and I agree.
Facilitating and Celebrating Young Leaders
Our students are not only the leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today. We need to let them lead. And at the same time, we need to empower our young people to see themselves as capable leaders, with opportunities to make real change.
So, how might we facilitate young people to lead and make change today? Whether recognizing injustices in the world, or what they feel needs to change in their own school or community, we can help them hone the skills and strengths they need to lead, such as:
Research Using Credible Sources
Digital and News Literacy
Collaboration and Teamwork
Preparing Students for Civic Action
Robbins* provides the following guide to preparing students for civic action, regardless of what subject matter we are responsible for teaching:
1. Identify issues important in their lives and community, and decide on one to address.
2. Research the chosen issue and decide how to change or improve the situation.
3. Plan an action, including determining a goal for change; identifying who or what body in the community has power to make the change; and deciding how to approach that person or those people.
4. Carry out the action through letters, talks, meetings with officials, policy proposals, and activities, depending on the specific goals of the project.
5. Reflect on the effort when it is over in order to understand their successes, challenges, and ways to continue learning in the future.
(*From Elizabeth Robbins, published in the New York Times article, "The Power to Change the World: A Teaching Unit on Student activism in History and Today")
Resources and Tools for Teachers
Here are some resources we have gathered for you to support you in inspiring activism and teaching for social justice in the classroom:
1. Angela uses the following tool to help guide students in evaluating the credibility of a source when doing their research:
2. You may wish to check out this New York Times series of articles which provides click thru’s to lesson plans and a rich array of resources to help you teach for social justice and connect your curriculum to current events and issues .
3. You may also want to use Danielle Allen’s "10 Questions for Participatory Politics" from the Youth and Participatory Politics research center to help frame your approach to inspiring activism with your students.
4. Jennifer Gonzalez offers a wonderful Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice in her 2016 Cult of Pedagogy blog post.
5. And don’t forget to dip into our Hacking School Culture supplemental resources folder for Hack 9, which includes free tools that and protocols we developed for Questioning the Credibility of a source, and a Scale for Assessing the Credibility of a Source, that are ready for you to use in your classroom.
Angela and I would love to hear from you, our Hacking School Culture Book Club readers. Join the conversation about compassionate classrooms on Facebook, at Twitter @EllenFeigGray @AngelaStockman, or drop us a line. Subscribe to our Compassionate Classrooms Blog and you will receive links to free stuff every week.