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Students have a lot to say about the world around them, especially when it comes to politics. However, many students feel like their voices aren’t heard, and may feel like there is nothing they can do to change the situation. This is why you need to come up with ways to help them become activists. Activism doesn’t have to be a lengthy process or even involve picket signs. Students can just as easily become activists by raising awareness, donating money, or volunteering their time to causes and organizations they believe in.
Activism is the act of engaging in activities that promote a specific cause or point of view. Activists seek to bring about social, political, and economic change through nonviolent methods. (Well, not all of them.) There are many ways that teachers, administrators, and parents can help students become activists. Whole blog posts, like this one about “Funny Stuff About Scientists” are also examples of contexts. The point of a context for an assignment is to describe what is going to be written about. Contexts allow us to make multiple assignments for the same piece of writing, and give the students a starting point for the assignment, as well as describe the assignment to someone else. Instead of saying “write a blog post
An essential part of education is responding to the problems around us. We can do this in many ways in our schools and classrooms. One way is to help students form highly effective student activist groups. This is where students practice (see what I did there?): Reflection and action on the structures to be changed (Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).
Make learning an integral part of your meetings. As activists, we need to have a good understanding of the world around us and how we act in it. Personal learning is an important part of this, and you need to shape this in your student group. This type of training can range from How to Have a Difficult Conversation to The History of Racial Oppression and Resistance in Schools. Have students take turns leading this learning time to pursue their personal passions. This learning period can often lead to larger projects and more activity.
Free yourself from the mentality We will find help. This is especially important for predominantly white student groups. Too often activism is confused with community service. Your group is not going to the community to help. Part of your work as an activist may be to address a specific need of a community, but don’t let aid be the main focus. In this case, you allow your students to place themselves above the people they work with, and stereotypes and prejudices are reinforced. Instead, remind students that they have much to learn and that everyone is worthy, regardless of their situation. One way to respect this dignity is to simply get to know the person. Is food being served? Students should sit down, eat together, and talk to those they are eating with. Cleaning? Students should investigate why the space has not been maintained, which will likely lead them to recognize that resources are disproportionate. Appealing to local authorities to take better care of properties.
Ensure diversity in your leadership team. Model the importance of diversity in community leadership by diversifying your leadership team (even if that means choosing leaders over students). Be honest about your intentions and discuss how important it is for all voices to come to the table to determine the direction of the student body.
Find out what is already happening in your community and become a partner. One way to give something back to the people and organizations doing good work in your community is to get to know them and work with them, rather than trying to start something new. It is likely that someone is already working on the need you are hoping to fill. Do research on local organizations and talk to leaders already working in the community to understand how best to collaborate rather than take the initiative. However, if you are working on something entirely new, your group can take the lead and work with community leaders.
Intentionally raise voices that are not heard. Think about the voices in your school or community that are not often heard. Be creative and find ways to elevate those voices. This can be done by organizing events with guest speakers, organizing field trips, celebrating holidays and anniversaries of important events, etc.
Have a social media manager. Among the skills of 21st century activism. Effective use of social media should be part of the 21st century. Help students interested in this area develop these skills by posting discussion questions, reflective comments on learning, and project updates. Canva and The Activists Guide to Archiving Video are tools that can help you.
Expect failure and persevere. Reflecting on our work also means reflecting on our failures and experiences of rejection and criticism, especially from our colleagues. Prepare students for this eventuality. Remind them of the importance of failure and the growth that comes from it. Talk about effective responses to criticism, which can be antagonistic. If your organization or a particular student has been harmed in any way, apologize and work to repair the damage. Model what it looks like.
Use students’ gifts rather than your own. Let the organization be guided by the gifts of your students. The more you let them pilot the ship, the more they will develop their activist skills. This may include some setbacks that you can mitigate. It’s all right, it’s all right. Give up your position of power and see the group as a partnership between you and the students.
Challenge students to solve problems and lead in a meaningful way. Young people are as capable as anyone of being a catalyst for change. Let them tackle the big issues and problems. Encourage them to do the work and participate with them in the learning process. If they are interested in a project in an area you are not familiar with, learn with them to demonstrate the need for lifelong learning.
Whatever path your students choose after graduation, being part of a strong activist group gives them the opportunity to become agents of change in their region. Moreover, as an educator, you will likely be transformed by the revolutionary power of getting to know others, building strong social relationships, learning history, and honestly addressing and eliminating inequities in your community.
This article was originally published on the Undone website.
Photo courtesy of halfpoint, Envato Elements license.
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