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The National School Walkout: A Powerful Lesson in Activism & Civic Engagement

The National School Walkout: A Powerful Lesson in Activism & Civic Engagement

When I taught 5th grade, one of the topics that I loved teaching my students the most was the Civil Rights Movement. Most of my students were the children of first generation immigrants to the United States so their exposure to U.S. history was often limited to what they learned in school. It was really exciting to get to explain to them how people organized, and protested, and boycotted, and stood up for what they believed in and effected significant change. It was a great way to show my students that in this country citizens matter, and if you don't like something that is happening in our society there are things that you can do to try to change it. Today, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, and in the wake of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, students across the nation are staging their own protests in the National School Walkout.

District Response

The response of school districts to the National School Walkout have been mixed. Here in North Texas, some districts are supporting the walkout by providing a designated time and place with no disciplinary consequences, while others are taking a neutral approach to the issue and giving students unexcused absences or tardies for missing or being late to class. Whether on a campus that is supportive, neutral, or against the National School Walkout, students are learning an important lesson about the power that they have to stand for change and that there are consequences, both good and bad, to using that power.

A Powerful Lesson

Today, when we talk about the civil rights movement, we remember it as hero activists fighting for what was right. We align the actions to the issue. Because discrimination is wrong, protesting it is right. But when it comes to gun control and gun rights, our country is much more divided, which is why the lesson students are learning through the March for Our lives movement and National School Walkout is so powerful. It shows students that they have a voice, and maybe even more importantly, that everyone has a voice and a right to use it. I hope that educators, no matter their views on gun control and gun rights, seize this opportunity to teach students about civic engagement, politics, activism, the First Amendment, and that everyone has a right to speak out (even if you don’t agree with them). 20 years from now students won't likely remember what they learned in their U.S. government class, but they will remember this.