Editorial: A priceless civics lesson

A common lament among older generations (me included) is that schools these days don’t teach civics like they used to.
Gone is the year-long mandatory course as a high school freshman on the Constitution, how our government works (from the three branches of government to the role of the people), to basic history that focused on key legislation and court cases (women’s right to vote, emancipation act, to the formation of FDR’s New Deal policies.) Gone is the notion that it’s important to understand the role of a responsible press, our police and law enforcement apparatus, and the ways local and state governments function.
In today’s test-heavy criteria geared to gauge competency on reading, writing and arithmetic, schools have found little time to teach subjects that aren’t geared to the tests or don’t have any special bearing on job training. At least, that is the criticism and the consequence is we are all poorer for it.
And yet, today’s high school and college students have sparked one of the most thoughtful and powerful political movements in the past 60 years. The March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence this past Saturday sparked more than 800 protests around this country and elsewhere in the world and drew hundreds of thousands of people advocating for change.
They are whiz kids on social media and instinctively know how to spread their message and organize a crowd. They are learning about the levers of power, and how to work within the system, or outside it if need be. Many seem to be natural storytellers, and have recognized the appeal of honest and heart-felt testimony. Unlike the anti-government protests of the Vietnam war protests, which sometimes took a violent turn, they have embraced the Martin Luther King approach to non-violent protest, building coalitions and championing their cause by promoting common sense measures that appeal to wide swaths of society.
In this nascent movement, the first label these students have shed is “apathetic,” the second is “self-centered” and the third is “apolitical and uninvolved.” On the contrary, the students are hyper engaged, their interest is in helping implement gun laws so the students after them don’t have to live in fear like they do today, and they are taking on the burden, they say, because the adults in power — Congress, the courts and the executive branch — have failed to get the job done.
And, interestingly, with help from others, a pro-gun group is scheduled to hold a press conference this Thursday in the state’s capital also embracing reasonable gun control measures to help stop violence caused by guns. That’s a clear sign the marchers are not rejecting guns at large or gun owners, just the irresponsible proliferation of weapons to those who shouldn’t have them.
No one expects any one measure will stop all gun-related violence. There are many issues to address — from poverty to mental health — but, increasingly, there is common consensus that the lax restrictions and easy access to many gun purchases is not a viable path forward.
The students’ lead role in this effort is an incredibly hopeful sign in a particularly troubling moment in this nation’s history in which democracy is threatened from the top down, starting with Mr. Trump, his administration, and a woefully complicit Republican Party in control of Congress. They recognize that this problem won’t be solved by those in power, and that their only hope is to lead the change themselves.
Such enlightenment is a breath of fresh air in a political environment that is otherwise upside down — and is testament that they know more about civic engagement and how to affect change than most.
Angelo Lynn

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