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Are these truths self-evident?

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.




Susan Graham commented on January 22, 2014 at 8:08pm:

Why do we need to learn this?

"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....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 love your kids! Right now I''m spending some time with a young woman who has had some real life challenges. She's turned her life around. She's dealing with som home issues, she has a job, and she is managing to finish high school on time, in part by taking Junior and Senior Language Arts at the same time. She is wading through Buewolf, Cantebury Tales, and Moby Dick. There just might be more relevant things for her to be reading.

Every instructional decision (and I know that these are not always in the teacher's control) should be able to respond to the question of "Why do we need to learn this?"


Bill Ivey commented on January 24, 2014 at 9:27am:

Awesome project, blog, and kids!

Great posting, and inspirational work.

My students create five of the seven units we do (I impose a poetry unit in April and a script-writing unit prior to the Theatre 7 course in which they produce their own plays). This year, their second unit had the theme question "What makes girls and women feel more or less powerful?" (we are a girls school with a feminist mission). During the course of the unit, they had a conversation with a Sophomore Honors English class that has many strong feminists (there's a summary on our school blog). At the end of the unit, I had them write on their current (perhaps changed) notions of feminism, and republished extracts on our school blog. I can't tell you how much fun it is to work with these kids in an atmosphere where genuine (respectful) voice, with all the diversity that entails, is encouraged and celebrated.

Chris Starmer commented on January 29, 2014 at 3:01pm:

An Educational Revolution

I also see the need for a revolution in education. Isn't it apparent that students are begging for change in their own unique way of non-engagement or disruption (that statement is a generalization). I agree that there is no need for a violent revolution, yet a peaceful solution to such a mis-justice to our students. There are some reasonable ways to accomplish this. As I teach my math students, 'there is more than one way to solve a problem'. So do not take my suggestions as hardened requests. They are simply suggestions to build on.

  • We have a serve and learn program incorporated into our school. It is limited in options just like our curriculum. It does however offer our students to become involved in the community and learn appropriate social and ethical skills first hand in real world experiences. It also is open to opportunities to tie in curriculum from different courses. Offering courses like this could open up a system where teaching becomes more like mentoring. Students can learn all they need through an avenue of selected courses and community involvement.
  • Having standards to complete would be a positive requirement for students that get to choose the avenue of education they are interested in, Isn't the point of a revolution to provide more feedom?  Improve upon an outdated system? The current system where students "are not left behind" seems to be doing the opposite of helping our youth. I feel they would benefit by gaining necessary skills before moving on in educational ventures and should be held accountale to them. Yes, I believe in holding students back.

The educational revolution is in need of placing students first. What I want for students is different than what they might want. Why should they be asked to conform against their will. Isn't the point of  a revolution to gain back free will. Why can't we give the students what they want? If we start from what students are willing to do, I feel we can construct a meaningful educational experience for the future generations.

Brianna Crowley commented on January 29, 2014 at 10:21pm:

Cross Post

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