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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

From anger to activism: Is this civics education?

A month after the Parkland, Florida massacre, students across the country plan to walk out of class for 17 minutes on March 14 to honor the Douglas High School victims and protest gun violence.

National gun-control groups are providing “logistical and financial support” to turn Parkland survivors’ anger into gun-control legislation, report Fredreka Schouten and Nicole Gaudiano on USA Today.

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Douglas High killings, has become an eloquent advocate of gun control.

“The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, is writing a curriculum on student activism for schools willing to do a “teach-in” on the walkout day,” they write.

Moms Demand Action, which launched Students Demand Action, is providing support for the March 24 “March for Our Lives” protests in Washington and other cities.

The next day, three gun-control groups will kick off a voter-registration drive aimed at high school students, write Schouten and Gaudiano. “It will focus on communities represented by Republicans who have taken campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association and have voted ‘no on gun-control bills.”

“Survivors of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. have taken to social media and TV, arguing eloquently for gun-control policies,” writes Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week. The students-turned activists have become a “model of civic engagement.”

He wonders if the #NeverAgain students will revive “moribund” civics education.

Teaching about “current events and controversies . . . requires considerable flexibility and nimbleness from teachers,” writes Sawchuk.

Kevin M. Fox, a history teacher at Cardozo High School in the District of Columbia, “plans to connect the Douglas students’ activism to the history of youth movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, from the Lowell Mill girls’ strike in 1836 up to the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala.,” he writes.

In high school English teacher David Preston’s class, students watched Douglas activist Emma González’s Feb. 17 speech at a gun-control rally and analyzed it using the classical modes of persuasion—ethos, logos, and pathos, which roughly correspond to one’s credibility, the logic of his or her argument, and the emotions it evokes. “I wanted the students to think critically about this student, who had a powerful need to be understood and a powerful need to move other people to understanding, and to evaluate that in a way that helps them grasp why these rhetorical practices are important,” said Preston, who teaches in the Santa Maria-Bonita district in California.

Robert Pondiscio and Andrew Tripodo, who’ve both taught government, wrote about the dangers of uninformed student activism in November.

Traditional civics teaching bores students, they write. Busing kids to state capitals and organizing voter drives may engage students without educating them.

Not surprisingly, they call for students to “engage in authentic civic experiences” and to learn “what they’re doing and why it matters within our system of government.”

Ignorance of American government and history is part of our culture,” responds Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who’s dubious that civic education is our salvation.

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