After Parkland, Students Choose to Participate

As students take action after Florida's school shooting, introduce a framework for civic participation in your classroom.

Last Updated: February 21, 2018

In the days following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took seventeen lives, a remarkable movement gathered momentum. Students who survived the shooting raised their voices to demand greater safety in schools. Emma González, the Stoneman Douglas senior whose anguished, impassioned speech at a rally following the shooting was viewed more than a million times, said,

“This is the way I have to grieve…I have to make sure that everybody knows that this isn’t something that is allowed to happen.”

In Florida and around the country, young people spoke out: writing op-eds and tweets, planning walk-outs and teach-ins, talking with reporters and lobbying elected officials, and organizing a nationwide demonstration to press for changes to American gun laws. According to Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, it’s no coincidence that students are leading this outpouring of activism: as young people who have grown up with the fear of mass shootings and regular school lockdown drills, they are at an age of dawning political awareness but not yet cynical about the possibilities for change, and they understand how tools of mass communication like Twitter can amplify an individual voice.

As you do the difficult work of acknowledging the terrible events in Parkland with your students, answering their questions and processing their concerns, you can also address the ways that young people are choosing to participate as upstanders and civic agents. Use the articles linked above, or others that will emerge as this story develops, to focus a class discussion.

Explore questions like these:

  • What is motivating young people to speak out about gun violence?
  • What are young people asking for?
  • What strategies are young people using to press for change?
  • What impact are young people having now? What else do you think it will take to create lasting change and make schools safer from gun violence?


You can also introduce your students to powerful frameworks for thinking about civic participation and social change. The 10 Questions Framework developed by political theorist Danielle Allen and the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) can help students examine youth activism in the wake of Parkland and can inform their own sense of agency around any issue they care about. Allen suggests that when people choose to take action, they should consider ten important questions:

  1. Why does it matter to me?
  2. How much [about myself] should I share?
  3. How do I make it about more than myself?
  4. Where do we start?
  5. How can we make it easy and engaging?
  6. How do we get wisdom from crowds?
  7. How do we handle the downside of crowds?
  8. Does raising voices count as [civic and] political action?
  9. How do we get from voice to change?
  10. How can we find allies?

After introducing the 10 Questions Framework to your students, discuss:

  • How does this framework help you understand how young people are trying to make change around school safety and gun violence right now? How have young activists answered some of the questions in the YPP Framework?

Legal scholar Martha Minow took another approach to analyzing how people can make change. She observed that one of the biggest barriers that individuals face in getting involved is that it is hard to know what actual steps to take: “Often times we see something that's unjust and we wonder, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’” In an effort to help individuals identify concrete actions to take when they “choose to participate,” Minow developed a “levers of power” framework to map out the organizations, institutions, and technologies that can enable us to strengthen the impact of our voices and our actions. The levers include:

  • Government (National, State, Local)
  • Nonprofit Organizations/Charities
  • Industry/Commercial Organizations
  • Professional Media
  • Social Media/Internet
  • Schools and Education
  • Influential Individuals (Authors, Lecturers, etc.)

After introducing the levers of power to students, and perhaps coming up with examples for each, discuss:

  • How are young activists applying some or all of these levers of power in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting?
  • Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg said in the aftermath of the shooting,  “We’re children. You guys are the adults.” Which levers of power are available to young people, and which require adult intervention? How much should young people be expected to do before adults step in? Are there things young people can accomplish that adults cannot?

To conclude your lesson, ask students:

  • Do these frameworks help you reflect on the issues you care about? How do they suggest tools that you could use to make a difference?

For more background on Danielle Allen and resources on social action, view the lessons Reflection and Action for Civic Participation and Strategies for Making a Difference.

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