A key part of the C3 inquiry process and social studies curriculum is teaching students how to take informed action. Traditionally, in the classroom, this has looked like engaging students on how to take civic action through community involvement, recycling, or voting, but in recent years, an emphasis on student activism has become more prevalent in education. Students are more inclined to think about their world and issues that might impact their own future, the role of “students taking action” is more pressing than ever.
Now more than ever students are involved in clubs or volunteering for organizations that focus on key issues like environmentalism, social justice, or gun violence in schools. In the United States and abroad, activism is taking on a role in students’ lives. Learn more about recent examples of how active and informed youth made a difference and how you can inspire your students to think critically about their own role.
School Strike for Climate
The global movement that inspired millions of students walking out of their school to protest climate change, started with a single girl protesting outside Sweden’s parliament in 2018. If you’ve heard the name, Greta Thunberg, you’ve likely heard of the School Strike for Climate. Beginning in March 2019, this movement propelled over 1.6 million students across 125 countries to demand change from politicians and businesses to take urgent action and recognize their impact on climate change. “Inaction equals extinction” and “save the world not your money” were some of the signs that students, parents, and educators from around the globe enacted throughout the strike.
Subsequent climate protests, largely initiated by youth in countries from around the world, were held between 2019 and 2022. One of the largest demonstrations was held before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in November 2019 in which student activists from all over the world participated and attended the event.
March for Our Lives
Following the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student survivors of the mass shooting along with other parents and student activists from across the United States held a demonstration in Washington, D.C. in support of gun-control legislation. Held one month after the events in Parkland, March For Our Lives was among the largest student-led protests since the Vietnam War. The speakers at the event were all students or parents who had been impacted by gun violence in their schools or community, with the youngest participant being an elementary school student from Virginia.
The demonstration on March 24, 2018 drew consistent media attention and many celebrities used their own platforms to support the march. Additionally, wide use of social media by event organizers and student activists from across the United States were able to relay more information to a larger audience in real time. Social media is also attributed to allowing the March to go global and reach millions of supporters across the world.
Black Lives Matter
Following the death of George Floyd in June 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement spurned many youth into action all over the world over issues of police violence and injustice towards people of color. Many students globally participated in peaceful protests and marches in support of Black Lives Matter. According to an article from the New York Times, the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 were reportedly the largest on a global scale, and teenagers and college students made up an immense amount of protesters according to the data.
In support of the movement, some students even formed their own local organizations to inspire others and protest for equity. One example is Katy4Justice, which was formed by three teenagers from Katy, Texas who voiced their frustration in their affluent Houston suburb about the lack of activism. They were able to use videos, text messaging, and social media to promote their mission and inspire others in their community to march with them. This protest represents one of many youth-led initiatives and nationwide demonstrations post-George Floyd’s death that energized a diverse cohort of teenagers and a new generation.
In the Classroom
Students can be inspired at any age to start taking action and there is a strong desire from students to be active, responsive citizens who care about impactful modern issues. As this is an integral pillar of the C3 National Social Studies Standards, teachers can inspire and support their students to better understand what this means and the student role. Below are a few suggestions that educators can implement at any grade level:
- Teach students to think critically about current events and have students bring in current articles from reputable sources that are about a variety of issues
- Foster student discussions around important issues such as changes in climate and weather, sustainability, energy, homelessness, population growth, etc.
- Use data to compare and contrast how issues may be evolving over time (the Nystrom Atlas of United States History can help with this!)
- Allow students to form their own organization or club in the school setting around an issue that might be of interest (Ecology club, LGBTQ+ allies, etc.)
- Give students the emotional space to process how they may be feeling about topics that may be triggering through journal writing, poetry, etc.
Historically, students have been agents of change. There is a pull for students to engage in activism and support movements or causes that speak to them. Educators must continue to support and foster these skills so students can engage responsibly and take action going into the future.
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Monet Hendricks is the blog editor and social media/meme connoisseur for Social Studies School Service. Passionate about the field of education, she earned her BA from the University of Southern California before deciding to go back to get her Master’s degree in Educational Psychology. She attended the graduate program at Azusa Pacific University pursuing her post-grad Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis and currently works as a School Psychologist in Los Angeles, CA. Her favorite activities include traveling, watching documentaries on mental health, and cooking adventurous vegetarian recipes with her husband.