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The Incredible Activism of Younger Generations Will Make You A Lot Less Depressed About the Future

Students and youth have the power to create the kind of future they want to live in.

In recent weeks, we have had the privilege of hearing from and seeing a number of impressive young people in action. We want to highlight some of the issues that are spurring youth to get active in their communities and what they are doing about them.

Young people are yearning to understand the world, even when the truth is horrible, so that they can change it for the better. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon: “They’re questioning and curious and skeptical and intensely philosophical. They want to make sense of the world and reasons people do the things they do. They have amazing ideas, ideas that are too often wrung out of them by a school culture increasingly devoted to filling in little circles and insisting there’s only one correct answer to any problem that comes along, and only one way of arriving at that.”

She wrote about a fifth-grade student in Florida who won an award for his essay, “In the Name of Religion,” in which he described the use of religion to justify war and mass murder. His school tried to take away his award and prevent him from reading his essay to his classmates, going so far as to require permission slips for the other students to hear it. His family advocated for him and he was able to both read his essay at school and advance in the competition.

Instead of creating an environment for honest discussion of the past and present which would facilitate reconciliation, school textbooks and programs perpetuate the status quo. High school textbooks often gloss over injustices such as the fact that racial segregation was caused by explicit policies and not by societal norms.

Rather than discussing the US as the world’s largest empire, that imperialist mentality is cultivated at a young age in the guise of a "youth development program," otherwise called the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp (JROTC). Ann Jones writes that this program is “pushed by multiple high-powered, highly paid public relations and advertising firms under contract to the Department of Defense….” She calls it the world’s most effective child soldier recruitment program.

Despite this, students are questioning the injustice they see around them. We marched this week with high school students in Baltimore who are organizing their community to stop the country’s largest trash incinerator from being built in their community. One of their teachers said, “These students already breathe some of the dirtiest air in the state and their young bodies bear a terrible price.”

Another impressive group of students in Baltimore, from the Algebra Project, are working for better conditions in their schools and to stop the school to prison pipeline. So far they have kept a juvenile detention center from being built, and are pushing for recreation and other youth programs. They need to raise a few thousand more dollars to keep their program going. We hope you will support these inspiring young adults.

Militarization and Over-Policing of Schools

The militarization of public schools and our culture generally, is dramatic, particularly in communities of color where police are intervening in increasingly aggressive ways. As Chase Madar writes, “What not long ago would have been seen as normal childhood misbehavior— doodling on a desk,  farting in class, a kindergartener’s  tantrum—can leave a kid in handcuffs, removed from school, or even booked at the local precinct.”

In Rochester recently, a police officer arrested three teen athletes who were waiting for a school bus to take them to practice. The officer insisted on completing the arrest even after the coach arrived to explain. The only crime they committed was being African American.

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