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How the Post-Columbine Generation is Learning by Doing

The kids have decided it’s enough.

They are fighting for their own lives in a way that politics and the dirty money associated with it have prevented us from doing on their behalf for over 20 years. Out the collective fear, frustration, and most of all, wisdom of a nation of kids not old enough to vote, we are seeing the birth of a movement.

The catalyst for this movement is the shooting and death of 14 students and three adults one week ago today at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. On that day, and every day since, the students there and those they have inspired appear remarkably prepared to lead the charge.

How is it that these kids have been so quick to turn their pain into activism? Why have our nations’ youth so easily come to their support?

The kids are the real thing

Emma Gonzalez’s stirring speech in the days following the shooting may have been one of the most photo-worthy moments of the burgeoning movement, but don’t be deceived into thinking that’s all there is to these kids.

Gonzalez, speaking at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale just days after the shooting was not the only Stoneman Douglas student to explain how prepared these kids are for the fight they are taking on. She notes “The students at this school have been having debates about guns our entire lives.” And that “We have to make sure our arguments are watertight.” Holding up her the paper from which she speaks she says “These are my AP Gov notes.”

They know their facts. But it’s more than that.

A New Yorker article detailing the first few hours of the #NeverAgain movement follows the young leaders as they respond to the shooting and begin taking action.

Jaclyn Corin is now the well-known organizer of a contingent of Stoneman Douglas students to the State Legislature in an effort to make them shift position on gun control. But the night following the shooting, Corin was just a seventeen-year-old junior recovering from the shooting, who woke up to learn that a close friend had been one of the 17 victims, Corin had her brief moment of grief and then started posting on Instagram for kids to “PLEASE contact your local and state representatives, as we must have stricter gun laws IMMEDIATELY.”

She also contacted her congresswoman and state representatives and organized the rally at the state legislature. How is Corin so prepared to argue the details? How did she narrow her attention on the state level? Part of the answer is that she wrote a fifty-page project about gun control for her A.P. composition and rhetoric class.

But as she says, “This is different because my generation is so intellectually prepared because we grew up after Columbine.”

Not only have people been impressed with the Stoneman Douglas kids’ intellectual prowess, but we have all observed how quickly everyone was able to switch into the appropriate drill mode for this type of situation.

Having grown up after Columbine, they are not only well-versed in the facts around school shootings and issues around gun control, they have trained for days such as February 14 their entire lives. Delaney Tarr, a Stoneman Douglas senior, told the New York Times in an article titled “A ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ Cries Out for Change,” that she can’t remember a time she didn’t know about school shootings:

“I’ve been told these protocols for years. My sister is in middle school—she’s 12—in elementary school—she had to do code red drills.”

Even for those kids whose schools do not practice strict drills, writers for the Times surmises, there is still a keen awareness of so many shootings, and it is this awareness that triggered the immediate and growing activism across the country.

Wedding old school debate with social media

Cameron Kasky started the #NeverAgain movement after spending one sleepless night on social media that led to a series of press interviews the next day, and an overnight working session with some friends. David Hogg, the school reporter, has also become a voice for the cause. Gonzalez, Corin, and two other friends have all joined forces to lead the movement.

Leaving grief behind; giving (multiple) voices to reason

The Stonenam Douglas kids are bypassing some typical stages of grief, or as several of the group have said, activism is their way of grieving. You can look at it as a sacrifice on their part, but it may also be the first time that so many people are able to, or perhaps are even being forced to listen to the argument that “Now is the right time to talk about guns.”

As they continue on this journey, the kids are using multiple channels, and multiple forms of communication to get the word out, even multiple voices. They are not allowed to let their anger show. Sometimes they cannot control it. They are balancing a great deal of maturity with the fact that they are, in many ways, still children. You’ll often hear them say “We’re still children! Help us!” Yet, they soldier on.

And so, their language shifts according to the need.

The longer form argument used in classroom debate may come in handy when confronting some of the folks in the state legislature and down in D.C.

Social media proved most valuable in getting the initial word out locally, to a broader audience statewide, and nationwide of their main constituency; and I’d assume will continue to be a mode of communication throughout this fight.

The kids are also becoming increasingly adept at speaking with the mainstream media, yet they are still working on more concisely articulating their message.

#NeverAgain and 70:20:10

One of the more successful models for learning and development in the past 20 years has been 70:20:10, wherein roughly 70% of learning takes place on the job, 20% is gleaned from relationships with co-workers and experts (people with expertise to whom you go for help), and 10% from formal training. It's worth mentioning this learning model here because whether or not these kids end up graduating high school or not, going to college, or taking a completely different path; they've already mastered so much and begun on a shortcut to adulthood.

The leading proponent of 70:20:10 thinking, Charles Jennings, has always said not to focus too much on the exact percentages, so let's just say that the Stoneman Douglas kids have a tremendously solid background of formal learning on which they can build their movement.

Despite the horrific losses on February 14, 2018, the active shooter drills practiced prior to that day did save many lives. While we have unfortunately lived under a veil of fear for so many years, such training has served a practical use.

Academically, Stoneman Douglas has prepared these kids for the tremendous task ahead of them. Whether you’re a fan of Advanced Placement classes or not, it seems these kids are now applying the lessons on constitutional rights and gun control learned in a variety of AP classes, in written papers, and oral debates.

But now it is time for them to deploy the 70% of performance and continue what they have been doing since Day 1: Learning on the job. Hopefully, they will be reaching out to experts in the field for their 20% of expertise.

There’s been some ambivalence on the part of the kids as to how much help they are willing or want to receive. But at the end of the day, whether you call it joining forces or concurrent efforts, the work of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Sandy Hook Promise, Newtown Action Alliance and have done so much to date, that working together in some form just might get us where we need to be.

Links 4 Further Thought


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

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