Summer 2018 Is Not Time Off for Student Activism or Teachers Planning to Support it

I’ve taken a month break from posting — for vacation and then focusing on other projects. But a great many students across America have not paused in their advocacy at all. Let’s make sure that when fall arrives, we teachers are ready to give them the tools they’ll need to further their efforts at responsible, active citizenship.

Perhaps the most widely known young activists are the Parkland, Florida students now touring the country to support fellow students and promote voter registration. One important aspect of the Parkland students’ efforts has been to connect with students of backgrounds other than their own. A New Yorker story explores how they reached out to Chicago student activists, brought some of them to Florida shortly after the Parkland shooting, and then joined in a June 15th rally and march on Chicago’s South Side.

You can read portraits of five of those Chicago students as well. Several of them are members of the new student group, Chicago Strong, which has brought together students from usually disparate parts of the city to support recent advocacy efforts. Student advocacy is taking place in other parts of the country as well, like several groups in northern New Jersey.

So how are educators supporting students to promote the skills and dispositions for meaningful social advocacy? One effort described in two previous Civic Action in Schools posts is the series of “Rise Up and Write” summer camps in Madison, Wisconsin. Students each research a social issue and then write on social media to engage their peers, create a community piece to educate and build support, and finally send a letter of advocacy to a responsible official.

The ACLU, in partnership with the Close Up Foundation, has for the past several years conducted its own summer institute for about 250 young people per year (estimate based on class pictures). The program focuses on learning about issues and the work and politics of advocacy, though not necessarily including engagement in action efforts as such. Finally, there’s a list of summer camps on teens’ social activism around the country. Most are over for this summer, but this gives you an idea of what’s out there. Some are quite affordable, and others look pretty expensive.

Now, what plans can you make, as a teacher, to contribute to this uplifting activity and support student civic engagement in the coming year? In some places, students will be quite charged up, and in others rather unexcited. Some teachers will be eager to support this work while others may need to understand that helping students become responsible citizens doesn’t mean being “political” as an educator. We hope you’ll review some of the stories and resources we’ve shared over the past year on this blog to help you with this.

Just remember: the students you are working with now are the young people who will become your neighbors in just a few years. So what kind of neighbors do you want? How much do you hope they’ll know how to help make your and their community a better, more equitable and peaceable place to live? How can you help them to start being those active citizens NOW?

Civic Action in Schools

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By Steve Zemelman, Director, IL Writing Project; author, “From Inquiry to Action;” co-author, “Subjects Matter” & “Best Practice;” Restorative Justice advisor