Help Them Find Their Voice

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->A student protest about immigration reform holdssome important lessons for educators.Geoffrey H. Fletcher

I WAS AT Round Rock High School in Texas observing the implementation of a 1-to-1 solution when an announcementcame over the PA system:

Students and faculty, we are in a lockdown situation. This is not a drill. Please stay in your rooms and follow the lockdown procedure. This is not a drill.

Students from a neighboring high school in the district had come to Round Rock to demonstrate about immigration reform. Administrators were concerned that Round Rock students would join or confront the demonstrators and create a dangerous situation, so they ordered the lockdown.

I have been in lockdowns before, and I dare say I helped cause a few when I was in college, but all of those were a number of years ago. What was different for me about this one was the technology involved—starting with the planning for the demonstration.

I learned that, in addition to using radio, advocates for the nationwide demonstrations had turned to IT to advance their cause, spreading the word via Web sites popular with high school students, such as Locally, those sites helped get the word out, but text messaging seemed to be the primary method of communication—a fact con- firmed to me by a few students after the lockdown was lifted.

Teachers noted that many of their students had their phones out and were text messaging like mad during the demonstrations.

Teachers also remarked that the kids didn’t fully understand what they were protesting, nor did they understand all the issues concerning immigration and immigration reform. My response is that this is the classic teachable moment. It may not be found on any end-of-the-year state test, but when students seem to care about something, let’s use it. Let’s direct students to the Internet to research what members of Congress from both sides are saying. Let’s show students the competing immigration bills and help them make sense of the differences among them. Let’s connect students with kids their age who live outside the United States to ask them their feelings about immigration in their countries. Let’s guide students to formally debate the key issues. Then let’s have these students contact their representatives in Congress with their informed opinions.

While I respect and agree with the decision to order the lockdown, I like that students were protesting, even if they did not understand all the nuances of the issues behind their protest. At least they cared, and I bet they felt empowered by the effort.

Futurists have long said that the one constant throughout history is change. What’s different about the past century is the pace of change, with technology as a primary driver. The Round Rock High episode shows the impact technology has in accelerating change. As educators, we cannot stop change, but we can guide it to some degree. We cannot guide it, however, if we do not teach our children that by taking action, they can have a significant effect on their future.

Linda Campbell from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram may have summed up the ultimate lesson of these student demonstrations: “Communications systems and communicators carry enormous power to translate passion into action....Imagine if [students’] organizational skills and energy were harnessed to help keep their peers focused on education, community involvement, and a better future.” Yes,imagine that.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-At-Large

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.