Every year, before I teach 1984 to my seniors, I run a simulation. Under the guise of “the common good,” I turn my classroom into a totalitarian regime; I become a dictator. I tell my seniors that in order to battle “Senioritis,” the teachers and admin have adapted an evidence-based strategy, a strategy that has “been implemented in many schools throughout the country and has had immense success.” I hang posters with motivational quotes and falsified statistics, and provide a false narrative for the problem that is “Senioritis.” I tell the students that in order to help them succeed, I must implement strict classroom rules. They must raise their hand before doing anything at all, even when asking another student for a pencil. They lose points each time they don’t behave as expected. They gain points by reporting other students. If someone breaks the rule and I don’t see it, it is the responsibility of the other students to let me know. Those students earn bonus points. I tell students that in order for this plan to work they must “trust the process and not question their teachers.” This becomes a school-wide effort. The other teachers and admin join.
I’ve done this experiment numerous times, albeit not consecutively, and every year I have similar results. This year, however, the results were different. This year, a handful of students did fall in line as always. The majority of students, however, rebelled. By day two of the simulation, the students were contacting members of administration, writing letters, and creating protest posters. They were organizing against me and against the admin. They were stomping the hallways, refusing to do as they were told.
The President of the SGA, whom I don’t even teach, wrote an email demanding an end to this “program.” He wrote that this program is “simply fascism at its worst. Statements such as these are the base of a dictatorship rule, this school, as well as this country cannot and will not fall prey to these totalitarian behaviors.” I did everything in my power to fight their rebellion. I “bribed” the President of the SGA. I “forced” him to publicly “resign.” And, yet, the students did not back down. They fought even harder. They were more vigilant. They became more organized. They found a new leader. They were more than ready to fight. They knew they would win in numbers.
I ended the experiment 2 days earlier than I had wanted because their rebellion was strong and overwhelming. For the first time since I’ve done this experiment, the students “won.”
Teenagers will save us. So, just like Emma Gonzalez, my students did not back down nor conform. They fought for their rights. They won. And, adults can learn a lot from the teens of this generation. While the adults are complacent, jaded, and disparaged, teenagers are ignited, spirited, and take no prisoners. Do not squander their fight; they really are our future. Do not call them entitled; that entitlement is their drive and their passion. Do not get in their way: they will crush you.
Foster their rebellion. They are our best allies.