Posted by Jessica Keigan on Saturday, 01/18/2014
Where do you see a need for revolutionary thought or action in our world? In our educational system?
When I ask my students this question, I get varied responses. They see a need for change in very personal issues, such as gender equality in high school athletics, as well as global philosophies, such as the need for change in how people judge each other based on stereotypes.
Giving them the chance to think about these ideas has become one of my favorite sophomore units of study, a study of revolutionary thought and practice throughout history.
Most great revolutions begin with a declaration of rights written by the oppressed peoples attempting to highlight their grievances and demands.
My students are not an oppressed people (at least in my assessment, though the teenagers might disagree), but in an effort to address one of the tougher Common Core Standards to meet in a world lit classroom (standard RI.9-10.9), my teaching partner and I designed a lesson that asked students to read a set of revolutionary declarations as model texts for their own declaration of rights.
Students read and analyzed three declarations (The Declaration of Independence, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, and The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments). For each document, they tried to determine what rhetorical appeal or strategy the authors utilized. They then compared and contrasted the three documents to come up with a set of characteristics common to this type of writing.
We then had them move into small groups to create a list of grievances and demands directed towards the “dictatorial” powers in their lives as students (i.e. the administration, the school board, their teachers, etc.). Using a Google document and a classroom set of Chromebooks, we compiled all of these grievances together then added an introduction.
Some of their ideas were very practical:
They, the educational system, have taken away the healthy and good food that is reasonably priced and have replaced it with junk food that is overpriced. These awful lunches contain bad items that make it harder to focus on schoolwork in and out of school.
We the students, resolve that in order to be successful in school, we need better and healthier lunches that are reasonably priced and are good for our health. With this healthier lunch, we will be able to focus more in school, graduate and become useful citizens of the world.
Others were challenging (in a really great way):
They, the board of education, do not require relevant subjects in school.
We, the students, should have life applicable curriculum in order for this to happen we need to have more choices in what the students want to learn than what the school board wants us to learn.
They, the board of education, base the definition of our educational success off of memorization and grade point averages.
We, the students, believe that education should incorporate skills like social development, organization, time management, money management, and specific skills in areas where we excel.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the candor of my students’ thinking. To see my students offer real and poignant reminders of what changes they know will benefit them, I am inspired advocate on their behalf—specifically by publishing all of their ideas here.
While the educational system doesn’t need a revolution filled with violence, ala the French Revolution, I am reminded through my students’ words that there are very real ways we need to be mindful of the changes that need to be made to an outdated system.
So I leave you with this: how can we make sure that we're not just paying lip service to the very real grievances and demands of our students? How can all of us take part in the change they request?
I’m pretty sure if we adults take the time to answer these questions, it would be truly revolutionary.
Image Credit: This image is a work of an employee of the Architect of the Capitol, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, all images created or made by the Architect of the Capitol are in the public domain, with the exception of classified information.