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Youth V Gov

October 4, 2023

Youth in Action: Climate, Civic Engagement and Constitutional Learning

Teach about constitutional rights with these educational guides featuring a group of young environmental activists who successfully argued a violation of constitutional rights by permitting fossil fuel development and its adverse impact on the climate.

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Young people across the world, including many of your students here in the United States, understand the challenges and importance of education regarding the climate and of civic engagement around this issue. And we know, their generation will feel the weight of decisions made by the generations before them. A recent historic court ruling in Montana offers an opportunity for constitutional learning for students. This ruling, and related lessons, would also fit into a current events class, U.S. government classes and science classes to name a few applications.

In August 2023, a Montana judge ruled in support of youth climate activists in a groundbreaking trial in which young people sued for government accountability regarding climate inaction. The ruling was covered by many news outlets as well as climate and science publications, including the New York Times, NPR and PBS NewsHour.

In the case, lawyers representing a group of young environmental activists successfully argued and showed that state agencies were violating youth constitutional rights by permitting fossil fuel development despite its adverse effect on the climate. This case offers an opportunity for student learning around constitutional rights, legal cases and much more.

The "mother" case to the Montana case is a federal case featured in the documentary film Youth v. Gov available on Netflix and through Good Docs for educational use.

Journeys In Film, a nonprofit organization that believes in the power of films to open minds, inspire an interest in learning, amplify issues, and compel viewers to make a difference as they engage in their communities, offers two free resources for Youth v. Gov. Pairing the film and these resources with a study of the recent Montana case offers opportunities for in-depth learning for students. 

Teach Climate, Community Action, Youth Empowerment, Civics

The Journeys in Film discussion guide for Youth v. Gov includes sections on civics, government responsibility, climate anxiety, intergenerational and intersectional justice, community service learning and more. The discussion guide is also available through Share My Lesson.

The curriculum guide for the film includes four lessons, applicable for grades 6-12 and higher education.

  • Lesson 1: This U.S. government lesson focuses on court procedures.
  • Lesson 2: Useful for English language arts and/or environmental science, this lesson focuses on fossil fuels and the environment.
  • Lesson 3: Another U.S. government and economics lesson that looks closely at the U.S. government and the fossil fuel industry.
  • Lesson 4: Useful for ELA, environmental science or government classes, this lesson focuses on climate in local communities. 

Both guides correspond to Common Core standards and the United Nations sustainable development goals. 

When teaching about climate and/or civic engagement and action, we know students can feel overwhelmed by the weight of challenges. The Montana case offers an opportunity to highlight positive action for students. Exploring it allows students to focus on success and to consider other positive approaches to challenges in their community or broader challenges in the world. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead
Jen Fischer

About the Author

Jen Fischer is a writer, film producer and teaching artist whose work focuses on highlighting shared human experiences to cultivate empathy and understanding. She is the Director of Programs and Outreach for Journeys In Film. She has developed curriculum for LA’s BEST, the Metta Center for Nonviolence and in conjunction with the Outreach Center for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, where she received her M.A. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and enjoys playing the piano and creating unique educational experiences for her two children.

View her profile

Lesson Plans on Climate Change

Explore more resources for educators to find a wide-range of relevant preK-12 lessons on climate change or supporting young people as they continue to lead the conversation around the climate change crisis.

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Journeys in Film

The mission of Journeys in Filmis to use the storytelling power of film to help educate our next generation with a richer understanding of the diverse and complex world in which we live.

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