Embracing the Student Voice Movement

Today’s youth are not buying the notion that adults will prevent future school attacks. Why should they? With little confidence that our nation’s leaders will ensure their schools are safe, students in Washington, D.C. and other major U.S. cities are hitting the streets.

To prevent school shootings, many American students quietly endure long metal detector lines, armed cops, and regular “lock down” drills. But a new round of fallen classmates has propelled them to no longer keep silent. Outside state and national government buildings, the sound of youth protest is growing. Nearly two decades beyond Columbine and countless images of students crying for missing classmates, today’s youth realize that tears alone aren’t enough. Our students have a clear message and their voices are getting louder. Are we brave enough to listen?

For the parents, teachers, and other adults who deeply care for these young people and their message, how can we help? Here are some suggestions.

First, let them know that we’re listening and thank them for seizing a powerful moment. This not only takes guts, but great responsibility. Then, highlight the importance of understanding their audience and help them think through the most appropriate way to advance their message.

Next, encourage them to be clear on their argument and incorporate factual evidence from credible sources to support their claims. These kids have had their hearts ripped open, and many are speaking directly from there. However, knowledge combined with emotion is stronger than emotion alone. We must guide our kids to be informed about the issues they’re protesting.

Finally, though it’s hard to think of any counterclaim to preserving the safety of our children in school, the issue they’re protesting has divided our country long before this recent school massacre. Press our youth to become familiar with opposing viewpoints, as teaching students to understand different sides of an issue is the anchor of civil discourse. After all, these are skills they’re learning in school.

Most importantly, adults need to embrace and get behind this youth-led movement. Their voices may end up being the only ones that prevent more students from dying in school. Will we listen?

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