Schools Should Be Building Future Civic Leaders

February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school was a tragedy no student should have to endure. Seventeen students lost their lives at the hands of a gunman, a fellow student, who got his hands on an AR-15. Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the surrounding community will never be the same again, and that is to say nothing of the families of the victims.

In the days following the shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas began rising up through social media and demanding change from their legislators. People from across the country are now supporting these young adults who are leading the charge for national gun reform. Thanks in part to their tremendous efforts, both Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have changed their policies on gun sales, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio has broken partisan rank, and has expressed interest in passing gun reform as well.

These heroic students have risen from tragedy and organized to bring about the change they want to see in the nation. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas see a problem they want solved in their community, and are using the tools at their disposal to solve it. High school students are capable of bringing about incredible change and we, as communities, should work together to help them accomplish it.

Our academic communities are fundamentally failing our students by not teaching them how much power they have. My high school, Stanton College Prep in Jacksonville, advertised the prom dress code in a way the student body found sexist. The students responded by starting a twitter campaign, as well as a day of demonstration within the school. The campaign became large enough that it was covered by multiple mainstream news sources. High school students have all the tools necessary to be invaluable politically, and it’s criminal we don’t teach them how to use them.

High school students are old enough to organize demonstrations, circulate information through social media, and articulate viewpoints to elected officials. We should be helping them do these things. We should strive to teach students how to organize politically, in the same vein as the protests during the 1960’s. Students should be introduced to local elected officials as much as possible, so they can learn both about policies, and about the process of running an election. We need to make students think about a problem that is facing their community, and who they can go to about it. Then, we need to have those students contact that person, and explain their position respectfully, while backing it up with facts. Most students are 18 years old by the time they graduate high school; that’s old enough to vote. We need to make sure our students are prepared to uptake their civic duty as Americans by the time they turn of age.

Students of this age group are also capable of understanding complex issues, and have the energy, passion, and optimism needed to work towards a solution. These aren’t students that need to be taught activism; they are already working on it themselves. Instead, we should dedicate our academic communities to supporting the activism of students, so students can be as effective as possible. Students should be encouraged to get involved in improving their communities, and supported by their schools in doing so.

We, as community members, must also acknowledge the voices of students; we can’t dismiss our student voices just because of their ages. Students are often smarter than we give them credit for. We also need to make a deliberate effort as teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members to listen to the voices of students and not dismiss them whole-heartedly, even if we disagree. High school students are our future, and they will be the change we want to see in the world. We have to make sure we’ve prepared them with the knowledge and skills they will need to take on this monumental task, but I’m sure they’re up for the job.

What do you think?


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