Students have always been a part of activism, but today’s students have grown up in a world where they have unprecedented access to and control over information. They are often passionate about social justice but lack the tools and skills to create positive change. We can help them by providing them with opportunities to learn how to be effective activists, such as learning how to organize events and protests or becoming more familiar with local organizations that support their causes.
Encourage civic activism.
Civic activism is not the same as political activism. While both involve working to influence local, regional, or national government officials and institutions, civic activists are focused on issues like voting rights, equal access to education and healthcare, environmental responsibility, and sustainability—issues that directly affect people’s daily lives (as opposed to political issues that might be more abstract). Encourage your students to become involved in these efforts by supporting them when they do so. In addition to providing resources and guidance for student involvement with civic organizations, you can also help students organize events around specific issues in your community that would benefit from student involvement.
Advocate for a more comprehensive civics curriculum.
One of the most important things you can do is advocate for a more comprehensive civics curriculum. Civics isn’t just about history; it is about how government works and how the government impacts you and your life. In addition to learning about our past, students also need to learn how they can impact and influence their world today. We are making progress on this front, but much work still needs to be done.
Discuss the history of protests.
You can teach students about the history of protest by giving examples of different protest movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. You can also discuss how protest has been used throughout history to bring about social change, from Martin Luther King Jr., who led marches for civil rights in America during the 1960s, to Gandhi, who lead India’s independence movement against British colonial rule in the 1940s.
Students should understand that although protests are not always successful or effective in bringing about change (depending on their goals), they are still important because they raise awareness about issues that need attention and help people feel empowered when they work together toward a common goal.
Give students an outlet to express their views.
Students should not be afraid to express their views. There are many reasons students may feel uncomfortable expressing themselves, but fear is the most common one. Students often worry about being ridiculed for having an unpopular opinion or voicing it publicly. Schools should make sure that students have a place where they can express their views without fear of retribution and with the understanding that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how unpopular it may be.
Students often don’t know where they can go to safely express themselves when they feel upset or angry at something going on around them at school. This can lead them to take out their frustration on other people instead of addressing what’s truly bothering them in a safe way (such as by writing poetry). Teachers and administrators need to encourage more open discussions about controversial topics, so students feel empowered enough about their beliefs that they’re willing to stand up for what matters most – even if that means standing up against peers who disagree with them!
Talk about ways to protest peacefully.
The most important thing to remember is that protesting peacefully should be the goal. You want to be heard and make your protest known without disrupting other people’s lives or breaking the law. There are a few ways to do this:
- If you’re planning on having a large rally, it’s best if you can get a permit from your city. This will help keep things orderly and prevent arrests by police officers worried about safety or noise level violations.
- Make sure that everyone understands what they’re marching for before they start walking down the street together (i.e., “If we pass by this store window here, don’t break anything”).
- Be aware of what time of day is best for getting noticed by news crews who might cover your event later on in their broadcasts—if possible, try not choosing days like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve when most people aren’t thinking about politics!
Foster trust and understanding between students and administrators.
As a school administrator, you should promote trust and understanding between students and yourself. This can be done by building a trusting relationship with students so that they feel comfortable going to you with issues or concerns. You should also make clear your policies, expectations, and consequences for breaking the rules. Additionally, they need to know that you are there to help them find solutions rather than punish them if they have made a mistake.
Remember that it is your job as an educator to teach your students and prepare them for the real world after they have left school or college behind. Students should realize early in their academic careers that they will likely face many challenges outside school hours—including protests!
Collect high-quality resources on current events and teach students how to evaluate the reliability of news sources.
- Collect high-quality resources on current events and teach students how to evaluate the reliability of news sources.
- Help students develop media literacy skills by teaching them how to spot bias in reporting and other key components of quality journalism.
- Encourage students to make their news source evaluation chart to use when reading articles online or in print.
Teach students how to defend their political opinions with facts, logic, and civility.
Teach your students how to defend their political opinions with facts, logic, and civility.
- Teach students how to evaluate the reliability of news sources. It can be easy for people to get caught up in the emotions surrounding any given issue, but you can help them develop critical thinking skills by helping them evaluate whether or not a source is reliable and, if so, why?
- Help your students learn how to debate civilly. Students should not only be able to argue for their own opinions with facts and logic but also listen carefully when others are speaking in order to understand what is being said before responding.
- Encourage open discussion around controversial topics outside the classroom—even if those topics may make some parents uncomfortable! By fostering these conversations through school-wide events like assemblies or parent-teacher conferences (or even just at home), you will encourage respect among peers while fostering self-advocacy skills that may prove useful later on down the line when these same students enter college or other postsecondary institutions where they might feel less protected by authority figures than they did while attending high school.
Make sure your classroom is safe for everyone’s beliefs and perspectives.
Your classroom is an opportunity to teach students how to respectfully disagree with each other, even when they hold opposing viewpoints. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with all of your students’ views. In fact, it’s better if you don’t—students will be more likely to see your beliefs’ value when you let them know that not everyone agrees with them.
Students should also be able to challenge each other’s beliefs and perspectives without feeling intimidated by their peers’ points of view. This can be difficult for teachers because we aren’t used to being challenged like this in our day-to-day lives, but it’s crucial for students’ growth as citizens who can stand up for themselves and others when necessary.
Keep lines of communication open at all times.
If a student approaches you with a request, it’s important to be clear about what you can and cannot do. Be sure that you refer them to the appropriate person (or people) if they don’t have those resources at their fingertips. If a student is asking for advice on navigating an issue that isn’t your area of expertise, ask questions about their concerns so that you can listen and understand their perspective as much as possible before making suggestions or giving advice. You never know what could happen if you don’t support and build up student activism and protest!
You can support student activism by building listening, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
- Learn how to evaluate sources of information: Students need to learn how to evaluate the credibility and accuracy of various news sources. Encourage them to read multiple sources on any given topic and then have them compare points of view based on their research.
- Teach students how to defend their opinions with facts, logic, and civility: As you teach students about different issues or events in the news that may be sparking protests, encourage them to share their thoughts—and make sure they can support those thoughts with well-researched evidence.
- Keep lines of communication open at all times: Make sure that you’re always available for student input during lessons about current events. You can also incorporate opportunities for class discussion into your lesson plans so that even if there isn’t a specific topic for a protest at hand, you still provide an avenue for students’ voices to be heard (and listened too!).
- Maintain decorum in your classroom: Achieving a respectful environment where everyone feels safe is essential when it comes time for debate over controversial topics brought up by media coverage or other outlets outside the classroom walls.”
I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas on how to support student activism in your classroom and beyond. Remember that it’s important to remain neutral and take care not to take sides when talking about politics or social justice issues because everyone deserves respect regardless of their beliefs!
Character and Civic Education
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools’ Character and Civic Education group administers various character and civics education programs. These programs include providing financial assistance for character and citizenship education activities in elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education, reporting on issues and programs, disseminating information, and providing technical assistance to state agencies and state and local correctional institutions.
AmeriCorps (Formerly the Corporation for National and Community Service, CNCS)
AmeriCorps was created (as CNCS) as an independent agency of the United States government by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. AmeriCorps brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges through national service and volunteering.
Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen (PDF, 43 Pages)
This resource from the U.S. Department of Education provides information about the values and skills that contribute to the character and good citizenship, including guidance on what parents can do to help their elementary-, middle-, and high school-aged children develop strong character.
How to Plan and Implement an Anti-Racist Service Project
The YSA Knowledge Center, under a grant from the Serve.gov, provides downloadable resources and video trainings to take service projects from idea to action through the project planning steps of investigation, preparation and planning, action, reflection, and demonstration/celebration.
iCivics champions equitable, non-partisan civic education so that the practice of democracy is learned by each new generation.
The We the People program curriculum includes a textbook, a resource center, supplemental lesson plans, and other Center for Civic Education resources. The curriculum provides upper elementary, middle, and high school students with a course of instruction on the history and principles of the United States constitutional democracy. Critical thinking exercises, problem-solving activities, and cooperative-learning opportunities help develop intellectual and participatory skills while increasing students’ understanding of government institutions and fostering attitudes that students need to participate as effective, responsible citizens.
The new Education and American Democracy (EAD) roadmap. This roadmap is essentially a new set of guidelines for national history and civics instruction. The roadmap focuses on “driving questions,” which are thematically connected and big-picture key concepts, rather than specific facts or dates. These guidelines seek to correct the gaps in history and civics instruction that have been ongoing for decades. The roadmap was developed by over three hundred educators from around the country. This roadmap aims to rebuild trust in our institutions by ensuring that equity and inclusion are at the vanguard of civics instruction.