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June 1, 2023

Channeling Grief into Action: Student Activism Resources


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I have always been unsettled when someone claims, “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s all part of a greater plan beyond our understanding.” As if the things that occur in life are all orchestrated by the universe or some higher power as part of a master plan over which we have no control. As someone who dealt with several tragic deaths in my teens, I had been subjected to my fair share of these sentiments from well-meaning yet, I would argue, misguided individuals. And instead of feeling comforted by their words, I felt distressed.

Later, in college, I double majored in international political studies and religion. In one course required for my religion major, I had the opportunity to read the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, in which he explores the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Kushner ultimately challenges and rejects the notion that there is a reason or plan for why bad things happen to good people, and accepts the idea that the universe essentially has some rough edges.

Near the beginning of the book, Kushner discusses the belief in life after death, and how he shares those beliefs, but he also writes, “Belief in a world to come where the innocent are compensated for their suffering can help people endure the unfairness of life in this world without losing faith. But it can also be an excuse for not being troubled or outraged by injustice around us, and not using our God-given intelligence to try to do something about it."

Kushner ends the book with these thoughts, “In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people translates into some very different questions ... asking how we will respond, [and] what we intend to do now that it has happened.”

After concluding the book, I was freed from the idea that things happen for a reason, and I felt empowered by the idea that we can channel our emotions of grief and sadness into action that just might make those edges of the universe a little less rough. And I think it’s important that students who want to channel their array of emotions into action are provided with guidance and support to do so. Share My Lesson has many resources to help support students in the aftermath of gun violence. Here are 10 resources that are specifically focused on student activism:

youth making a difference

Teach Human Rights: Youth Making a Difference

This lesson from Defenders of Human Rights and Democracy in Your Community provides examples of how young people have taken action across the world on issues they care about, and guides students on how they, too, have the power to take action.

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wear orange

ENOUGH! Writer's Toolkit

ENOUGH! Writer's Toolkit + ENOUGH! Educator's Toolkit + Today’s News, Tomorrow’s Lesson on the program Students Confront Gun Violence Through One Way They Know How — Theater

Art can be a powerful form of activism. This resource allows students to develop a play as a means to confront gun violence.

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Sarah Lerner

Keynote: Lessons Learned After the Parkland Tragedy: Becoming an Advocate

Sarah Lerner, a veteran teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., shares her experience following the school shooting there, and how she advocates for gun reform and acts to put an end to gun violence.

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Taking Action

Local Government and Taking Action: An Introduction to Action Civics

Big changes can be made at the local level. By drawing students’ attention to their local governments, systems and services, students will gain appreciation for the potential power of their actions at a local level. Students will work together to choose an issue in their community they feel needs to be solved, and then seek out a local elected official to address it. Try this resource from Generation Citizen.

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We are better than this!

Evaluating Students' Right to Protest

This resource from SML member Julie Stern has students dive into learning about their specific rights to protest, and provides safety tips they need to know before participating in a protest.

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woman holds microphone

Lesson Plan: Civic Engagement and How Students Can Get Involved

In this lesson plan from PBS NewsHour Classroom, students immerse themselves in learning more about the federal government as well as the individuals who represent them at the national level; it also provides tips on how students can let these lawmakers know their opinions on issues that matter to them.

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student changmakers

Empowering K-12 Students to Become Changemakers

This webinar co-hosted by Ashoka “explores practical ways to help young people reflect on the skills and attributes needed to be a changemaker through a variety of grade level appropriate activities--including writing (grades 9-12), STEM (grades 6-8), visual arts (grades 3-5), and interactive read-alouds (grades K-2) with the goal of helping students develop their own definition of what a changemaker is and to declare that they are changemakers.”

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Activism: Purpose Beyond Protest

This lesson from SML member James Dawson from the United Federation of Teachers has students explore different strategies to actively seek change that goes beyond just protesting. Students will identify which activist groups are successful and what makes them successful.

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10 Ways Youth Can Engage in Activism

We all have different gifts and talents, but we can all be a part of making a positive impact on the issues we care about. This ADL resource identifies numerous ways individuals can be engaged citizens and help shape the world they live in.

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The Impact of Mass Shootings & Gun Safety

In this lesson from SML member Eftikhar Saleh-Hernandez, students explore the impact of gun violence and learn how to write letters to legislators to call them to act on the issue. 

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Addressing Gun Violence

Find free K-12 lesson plans and resources for educators, school staff and community members on gun laws, the second amendment, government debates and obstacles, gun violence, and action tools.

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Megan Ortmeyer

Megan Ortmeyer is an SML Team Member and has worked in the AFT Educational Issues Department since fall 2018. She received her M.A. in education policy studies in May 2020 from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.

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