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Youth activism – Black Lives Matter and Fridays for Future prove children want to make a difference

We’re living in tumultuous times but we must nurture children’s natural instincts to challenge injustice, says Beki Martin...

  • Youth activism – Black Lives Matter and Fridays for Future prove children want to make a difference

It is no exaggeration to say that the past six months have been difficult.

The world has been shaken by a pandemic that continues to take lives and disrupt life as we know it.

The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police has seen us confront the systemic racism that has been operating in society for centuries.

Scientists have reported that the ecological emergency we are facing is further along than we thought.

We are living in tumultuous times, but there is hope, and that hope lies with the youth and how they have responded to these global issues.

During lockdown, children across the country have engaged in acts of kindness and demonstrated support for the NHS, key workers and those affected by Covid-19.

They have lovingly painted rainbows to display in windows, joined in with weekly claps and sent messages of support to those shielding, in addition to many other small acts.

My children made a stall to sell their old toys to raise money for material, which could be turned into masks and wash bags for local nurses.

Across the country many others have done similar things. Throughout this crisis, children have shown they want to make a difference and positively contribute to society, and they have done so despite the very real fear they have felt about the virus and its impact.

The youth response to the callous murder of George Floyd has also shown that young people are committed to the creation of a more just society.

Many have joined protests, demanding justice and an end to structural racism. Others have created petitions to put pressure on their schools to decolonise the curriculum.

Young people understand that society is theirs to shape, and in the words of 18-year-old activist Kam Lambert, “[They] are the future leaders and the ones who can affect systemic racism in the future.”

Their acts of upstanding have helped ensure that those who have been subject to discrimination and oppression because of their skin colour are finally starting to be heard, and that those who have benefited from being part of a society that prioritises the needs of white people are finally starting to listen.

This is not the first time that we have seen young people protesting recently. Only last year we saw youths take to the streets to speak out against climate change.

We saw weekly ‘Fridays for Future’ school strikes around the world, led by young activists such as Greta Thunberg and Leah Namugerwa who are not scared to speak truth to power.

Young people are engaging in activism in new ways, using the likes of social media to organise and amplify their voices; showing that they are not willing to stand by as the world changes. They want to shape it for the better.

While many of the examples of current activism are linked to secondary-age pupils, we know that primary pupils care about injustice.

Young children are great at spotting things that are unfair or unjust – ask any young child you know to name something unfair that they have experienced or seen and they will be able to come up with countless examples.

They want the world to be a ‘good’ place – the endless rainbows that line streets around the UK is evidence of this.

As educators, we need to nurture these natural instincts so that children can grow up to be conscientious – so they understand that they have a role in shaping society for the better.

We can do this by helping children understand themselves and their identity; by helping pupils explore who they are and their relationship to others and society. This is the first step in combating discrimination.

Once people understand that others might judge them because of certain features of their identity, then they are less likely to do that to others.

We must encourage children to understand that their actions have consequences that reach beyond their own lives; that they have a choice in how they relate to others, and that they can play a role in challenging injustice.

There are challenges ahead. In this moment we have an opportunity to help pupils think about why they painted their rainbows and how this act can translate to other situations in their lives.

Let’s not waste the chance to help the next generation of young people become informed, responsible and compassionate citizens.

Beki Martin is executive director at Facing History and Ourselves UK, a charity that uses lessons from history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. Follow her on Twitter at @bekiemma.

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