We Better Listen to the Kids

Dreamer of Dreams, by Joe Brusky/Overpass Light Brigade. Retrieved from Flickr for Creative Commons use.

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!By Cynthia Zuñiga

The goal for any teacher is to not only educate their students, but to make sure students are able to use the knowledge we share and apply it to their daily lives. Personally, I strive towards this goal, but I also hope what I teach my students will help them become great citizens and create a stronger society than the one I grew up in. I have only recently learned that the version of history I was taught when I was in elementary and high school was based on half-truths. A lot of the important information in social studies classrooms is sugar coated or swept completely under the rug. This is something that I do not want for my classroom. I want my students to know the real society that they live in, so that they may not be as shocked as I was once they get older.

Thankfully, some teachers are already striving for this social change. They are igniting a flame in their students to take action and create change. A great example of this is the Milwaukee organization called Y.E.S. (Youth Empowered in the Struggle) that was founded through Voces De La Frontera (Voices of the Border). This is an organization that has been connecting with various high schools around the Milwaukee area to create “chapters.” Students learn about the social issues that are occurring within their area and nationwide. They create plans to get the community together in order to help them face these issues that are effecting their families, neighbors, teachers, etc.

As many students realize over time, the society that they live in is not perfect. Through a variety of social studies lessons, they learn the message that nothing in society will change if effort isn’t given. One helpful lesson would be studying the Civil Rights Movement and how the marches on the streets ensured people that their voices were heard. Another example is when Cesar Chavez began a boycott to help the United Farmworkers to make sure that others would realize the difficulties society would have without farmers. History can never changed by just watching on the sidelines; this is what is being taught to the students that are involved in the Y.E.S. program. You can watch this video of the annual May Day march held in Milwaukee. On this day, May 1st, all Latinx, immigrants, and refugees are encouraged to not attend their school, job, or any other responsibility. It is a day to demonstrate what life would be like without these people. It is a day to bring awareness while also gathering the community together.

When students organize and actually “do” social studies, they are able to use their freedom of speech to stand up for their beliefs and make a change. It allows them to apply historical knowledge of how others before them were able to stand their ground and make an impact. In addition, by organizing and attending these marches, the students become aware of social issue events that are happening within their immediate community and nationwide. Their perspectives on different cultures also change because they become more aware that oppression is not only placed on the Latinx and Black communities, but on other groups as well.

* * *

Another example of students engaging in social studies on a national level is the National Walkout, when individual expressed their perspectives on gun laws and human rights. These students, like the Y.E.S. members, studied history and realized it had been repeated over and over, but that there had been little positive change. By participating in the National Walkout, these students took matters into their own hands to make sure that the government knew they were ready to fight for change. One quote that I heard repeatedly during the time of the walkout was “I think we better listen to the kids”; this quote is one hundred percent correct. Our students can change the world, and they are the ones who often have a clearer perspective than most adults.

The students, like those who participated in the walkout, are hungry for change, and they will not be satisfied until justice and reform have been accomplished. By participating activities such as the National Walkout, students are able to “do” social studies; by using their freedom of speech and applying their knowledge of human rights, they are able to learn and connect more about how the government works — specifically on the topic of guns. When students become politically active, they gain a variety of perspectives and then have the ability to branch out and stand up for many human rights issues.

* * *

It is clear that more students are standing up for their rights and using their voice to be heard by those in power. Examples such as these are needed in the classroom when teachers discuss civic and informed action. Students will come to realize that when they see something with which they do not agree, they have the opportunity to educate themselves and fight back. Once students are equipped with that knowledge, teachers can then focus on the Amendments and other laws that protect them when they decide to speak their mind.

Proactive teachers can also use these examples to teach students the reasons why, historically, these groups of people have fought back and demanded change. Engaging in modern day movements can help students reflect back to the civil rights movement, and it can help them understand how minorities are still being neglected and treated poorly. Ultimately, as educators, we must focus our students’ attention on the differences in the lives of those who are privileged and those who are not. We must help them realize that not everyone has the same social, economic and educational opportunities. When they have such understandings, they will be better equipped to enter the real word and make big things occur. The children are our future, and I am ready to listen to what they have to say.

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