At a Glance
LanguageEnglish — US
- Civics & Citizenship
- Social Studies
DurationOne 50-min class period
- Democracy & Civic Engagement
About This Lesson
In this lesson, students will analyze how a 2018 high-school mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, spurred a group of student survivors to become passionate activists against gun violence. They will examine the tools used by their peers on the front lines of a burgeoning social movement—including their engagement with social media and journalism, their electoral strategies, and their internal organization.
Students will put themselves in their peer activists’ shoes and use the 10 Questions Framework to examine in detail how the Parkland students led the way for the nationwide #NeverAgain protest. In the process, they will explore their own feelings toward their Parkland peers and the lessons they can learn from them.
- How have Parkland students tried to influence Americans to take action on gun violence? In what ways have they been successful?
- What obstacles have the students encountered?
- Students will identify strategies and tools the Parkland students have used to raise consciousness and influence Americans to take action to reduce gun violence.
- Students will discuss risks faced by the Parkland students and safeguards that might protect them from those risks in their future civic-political participation.
This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:
- 3 activities
- 1 video
- 1 handout
- 4 readings
In February 2018, a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, resulted in a group of student survivors raising their voices for school safety and gun control, refusing to let the incident be remembered as just another tragedy. New-media tools gave them great leverage to amplify their voices and influence with local and national lawmakers. Their bold action, consolidated on social media around the hashtag #NeverAgain, gained nationwide attention. Celebrities showed support for the movement, and ordinary individuals joined their protests. School walkouts were organized in several cities across the country, in which thousands of students took part. The Parkland students’ activism demonstrates how young people, often sidelined from political institutions because they can’t vote, can turn into powerful civic actors and drive social change on a large scale. 1
The digital realm, however, is adversarial at the same time as it is rich with resources and opportunities. “In a digital realm,” as Harvard professor Danielle Allen puts it, “anyone can change in an instant from a private to a fully public person, from being a kid doing homework to a celebrity.” Allen also adds, “Whereas child and teen actors have whole teams of people to help them think about their public persona, and how celebrity distorts one’s personal life, young civic agents who experience this phenomenon are infrequently prepared for it.” Some might fall prey to fabricated news, hostility, and personal attacks from anonymous sources. Furthermore, deep partisan fissures fuel anxiety and animosity surrounding student activism. 2
How can teachers help students protect themselves from those new kinds of dangers and achieve their civic-political aspirations? Question 2 in the 10 Questions Framework (“How much should I share?”) helps students prepare for the pitfalls of digital platforms. It is important that students give forethought to their “public persona” and to the question of how much of their personal lives they would like to give over to the public sphere. This lesson also orients students to think about the difference between voice and influence in relation to Question 8, prompting them to reflect on the lessons they can draw from the Parkland students as they embark on their own paths of civic engagement.
- 1Matt Vasilogambros, “After Parkland, States Pass 50 New Gun-Control Laws,”, Statelin, PEW Charitable Trusts, August 2, 2018.
- 2Danielle Allen, “Ten Questions for the Parkland Kids,” Washington Post, March 7, 2018.
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.
This lesson uses Parkland student activism as a contemporary case study of student agency, which many students might find relevant to their own lives. But this particular example is not an easy one to discuss in the classroom. First, the movement began with a moment of horrific violence, which might be unfamiliar to some students and all too familiar for others. What’s more, the Parkland case centers around school safety and gun-control policy, topics that divide the nation along partisan lines.
For these reasons, it is important to make students aware that the purpose of this lesson is for them to analyze and learn from the civic activism of students in Parkland, not to join or take sides in the debate over gun regulation. Be sure to establish ground rules or a class contract (if you haven’t done so already) to help keep the lesson focused and civil.
This lesson includes the VICE News video How Parkland Students Went from Teens to Activists (09:35). This video provides an accessible and in-depth look at the actions students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took after the mass shooting at their school in 2018 to raise consciousness and influence Americans to take action to reduce gun violence. This video is hosted for VICE on YouTube, and it may trigger an advertisement when you view it. Facing History cannot control whether an advertisement appears or the content it may include. We recommend that you preview and cue the video before class to avoid showing the ad.
- Introduce the lesson by briefly explaining to students that in February of 2018, a gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida. In response, student survivors of the shooting raised their voices for school safety and against gun violence, refusing to let the incident be remembered as just another tragedy.
- Share the VICE video How Parkland Students Went from Teens to Activists (09:35). Before playing the video, pass out the handout 10 Questions Framework: Parkland Viewing Guide and tell students that they will be trying to answer as many of the questions from the framework as they can. Time permitting, show the video twice so that students have plenty of time to complete the handout.
- Ask students to share their answers, first in a Think, Pair, Share and then as a class.
- Next, have students read four readings on the Parkland student movement using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Begin by dividing the class into four “expert” groups, and pass out one of the following readings to each group:
- How the Parkland Students Pulled off a Massive National Protest in Only 5 Weeks (CNN)
- After Parkland, States Pass 50 New Gun-Control Laws (PEW)
- Parkland Students Find Themselves Targets of Lies and Personal Attacks (New York Times)
- "More in Common Than We Thought" – Chicago, Parkland Youth Stand in Solidarity (Chicago Sun-Times)
- Project or write on the board 10 Questions Framework Poster and tell students that they will be referring to these questions throughout the lesson:
- Why does it matter to them?
- How much do they share?
- How do they make it about more than themselves?
- Where did they start? How do they make it easy and engaging?
- How do they get wisdom from crowds?
- How do they handle the downside of crowds?
- Are they pursuing voice or influence or both?
- How do they get from voice to change?
- How do they find allies?
- Explain to students that each “expert” group will read together the group’s assigned reading, pick one question from the framework that they believe is especially relevant to the article, and discuss how the Parkland students addressed the question, using evidence from their reading. Then divide the class into new “teaching” groups. The members of each “teaching” group should all have read a different reading in their “expert” groups. Instruct each student to summarize his or her “expert” group’s reading for the new “teaching” group and share their selected question from the framework as well as highlights from their group discussion. Reconvene as a class and ask a member of each “teaching” group to share their article and discussion with the class.
Transition into a whole-class discussion in which students reflect on the following questions:
- How did the Parkland students use media to raise awareness about gun violence? What results did they achieve in addition to raising awareness? What other strategies did they use, and how did they use them?
- What lessons can we draw from their experiences that might inform our own civic participation?
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10 Questions for the Present: Parkland Student Activism
10 Questions for the Past: The 1963 Chicago Public Schools Boycott
10 Questions for the Future: Student Action Project
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