The Kids Are All Right

I hadn’t planned to post about the Parkland students  who have become the articulate and determined voice of a newly energized gun control movement. Given the amount of media attention generated by last Saturday’s amazingly successful march, I doubted I could add anything to the conversation already underway.

But then I read articles from the Christian Science Monitor and from Slate asking–and answering–the question “why are these kids so articulate and effective?”

As the Monitor explained,

The Parkland students were thrust into the spotlight, but they had preparation for this moment. Thanks to state law, they have benefited from a civic education that many Americans have gone without – one that has taught them how to politically mobilize, articulate their opinions, and understand complex legislative processes. Now they are using their education to lead their peers across the country.

“Parkland really shows the potential of public civic education,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “The goal is to make every student like that – not afraid to discuss difficult issues,” and with the skills to express a viewpoint.

As the article from Slate elaborated,

The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out.

Civics education, it turns out, really can produce effective citizens, and Florida, it also turns out, has the most comprehensive civics education program in the country.

The Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act – named for the former member of the US Supreme Court who has made civic education a hallmark of her post-bench work – passed in 2010 with bipartisan support. It mandates that all middle school students in Florida take a civics course, pass a comprehensive test, and include civics education reading in K-12 language arts.

More than 90 percent of Florida civics teachers discuss current events in the classroom, and two-thirds of them do so every week. Most employ a variety of methods, including  debates and mock trials.

Florida’s Broward County, the sixth largest school district in the United States where Stoneman Douglas High is located, takes civics education even further. In the district-wide debate program, every public high school and middle school has a team, and several elementary schools participate as well.

“[T]he overall emphasis of civic learning is paying off,” says Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics, a civic learning website with teaching resources and games founded by Justice O’Connor in 2009. “[Parkland] is a sad way that we got to discover this, but a Civics 2.0 – not your grandmother’s civics – but a civics that is relevant, engaging, and puts kids at the center of the political action … graduates citizens who are ready to be a part of a community that we call the American experiment.”

These amazing kids haven’t just exhibited poise and passion; the have demonstrated an ability to marshal their peers and supportive adults, and mount an impressive display of disciplined public outrage. (NBC reported nearly a million marchers in Washington, D.C. alone.) They have displayed an understanding of politics and the role of citizens in the crafting of public policy.

Empowered by civic education, they’ve given other teenagers throughout America a Master Class in civic engagement.

Assuming Trump and Bolton don’t nuke the world in the interim, the country will eventually be in very good hands.