ACTIVISM: Empower Students to Be Advocates for Change
Helping Young Activists Find Their Voice
This is a time in the United States of America where kids can start feeling disenfranchised. To begin with, it’s been a difficult start to the year for them (not to say ourselves), and we’re asking them to keep going when, really, many are running out of steam. Then, there’s all of this talk around the election. If they haven’t already, in the coming weeks, students will learn about voting, and may vote for a classmate to represent them. However, many will feel it is unjust that their voices are heard only within the cyberspace classroom and not nationally. I wish to show you how to help students find their voices, and become activists.
When I taught at PS 58 The Carroll School in Brooklyn, I taught students how to write opinion pieces on issues that mattered to them. We wrote on topics that fell into two categories: issues that mattered to them, and issues that were of immediate concern. I tried my best to tie them to real-life situations.
For example, when I found out the Musée de l’Homme in Paris was reopening after being closed for so many years, I had students write letters to the Director of the museum explaining what they wanted to see in the museum. How did I make this relevant to Brooklynites? We toured the Gallery of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History, and examined amazing new exhibits. These included a replica of Lascaux caves in France and life-size dioramas that one of my students was quick to point out was not true to life because people were much shorter. What did my students write about? They wrote about different ways that the Director in Paris could engage visitors, and what topics were most interesting to them. My students found their voices by writing about something they were both knowledgeable and passionate about.
How do I make this happen? First, I bring together a theme (social studies or science) and pair it with persuasive or informative writing. Then I find an audience and a culminating activity that really speaks to my students. In the spirit of today’s instructional challenges, I collected some past ideas, and wrote down some possible adaptations for the online world. The examples below will really help.
The InspirationInspiration is essential for activism work. I’ve compiled a list of books that you can read aloud to your students to show them young people, like them, who have inspired generations of others. Great books about amazing young activists will make them want to take action.
- Find real people to talk to like council members, board members, assemblymen, directors, owners… It’s really neat when they reply, or even better, ask to meet students in person.
- Go for current events. Fires in California, poverty, BLM, single moms, disappearing bird species, hunger, COVID safety. If they are old enough, let them explore a problem that is super meaningful in their young worlds.
- Make this a longer project. At least four weeks, closer to six or eight in the upper grades.
- This isn’t just about writing. This is about presenting. Focus on public speaking skills (i.e., when to pause when talking, how to look at an audience, how to hold yourself in front of a crowd, when to raise your voice, how to use decorum…)
Today, I see so many issues that inspire activism. We may not all agree on what is a priority, but we owe future generations a chance to voice their own concerns.
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