Amplify Constitution Day, Amplify Student Voice

  • by:
    • Libby Otto
  • August 16, 2019
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By mid-September, you’re busy with school, work and fall activities. Constitution Day, on September 17, may slip past you without a thought. So why should this year be any different? 

Constitution Day is the anniversary of the day that the Founding Fathers signed the United States Constitution. As you reflect this year on how the current political climate and public policies impact millions of people, continue asking yourself: are you making a positive change to decrease the inequities that many within your communities experience?

Becoming Engaged: Student Activism

In 2018, student activism swelled throughout the country. Seeking to make positive changes in their communities and our nation, students exercised their fundamental constitutional rights to free speech, to peaceful assembly and to petition the government. High school students advocated for stronger gun safety laws and joined in grassroots voter registration drives. Middle and elementary school students also participated in civic activities where student leaders facilitated and moved forward conversations around bullying and harassment. Many middle and high school students planned and participated in school walkouts to protest for government action in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting. You have seen students continue their activism by organizing letter writing and phone calls to lobby public officials and political figures. 

Supporting Student Activism in the Classroom

Your students are ready to participate in civic and political activities within their communities and beyond. It is the educators’ responsibility to equip them with the tools to succeed. So how do you make sure you’re packing your students’ advocacy and activist toolkits responsibly? First, you need to ask your students how they want to change their communities. Next, you must teach students about current events and the critical skill of having informed, civil discussions and debates about hot button issues. Teaching current events and civility are also essential. It leads to higher student engagement, endless opportunities for non-fiction instruction, informational text- reading skills and chances to add student voices into the curriculum. Teaching current events can be integrated into the standard curriculum. For instance, pairing current events with older reading material is interesting for both students and adults. A comparison of then and now is a meaningful conversation to have in the classroom. Providing students with opportunities to put their learning into action also is essential. Even one hour of service-learning can positively impact students and their community.

Building Your Social Justice Toolkit

As educators, you need to continue to pack your own toolkits around equity and social justice. You can do this by attending intentional professional development opportunities, by reading books like The Hate U Give, which expertly weaves narratives into one story, and by having direct conversations within our circles of impact.

Search online, and you will find a variety of resources to help you. Articles, both peer-reviewed and not, discuss current educational trends and pre-made lesson plans. ADL provides many of these resources. In addition to an online bibliography that recommends diverse literature about bias and social justice, our Current Events Classroom series provides educators with lesson plans about current events. They detail what to ask, what to talk about, and how to prepare yourself, and your classroom for these discussions. And in 2019-2020, ADL is introducing a full-scale high school civics curriculum that is social justice and anti-bias-focused.

Constitution Day can be a call to action for educators and their students. Your students are eager to exercise their fundamental freedoms to change the world for the better. Children are our future. So educators must provide students with the opportunities, space, love, and support to help ensure that the next generation knows how to build and sustain a world filled with liberty and justice for all.