Responding to Tragedy: What My 7th Graders in China Are Learning from the Survivors of Stoneman Douglas
Editor’s note: Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month—led her class through a lesson on the recent tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. For more information on responding to violence and tragedy in the classroom, please see these helpful resources.
I teach middle school health at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China. While our school follows an American curriculum, living in China means that we often feel removed from both the local culture as well as what’s happening back in the U.S.
The news on February 14th of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida hit us hard. We all have ties to the States, and many of my students will be moving back there at the end of the school year, when their parents’ overseas contracts are up.
When the shooting happened, we were on holiday for Chinese New Year. By the time we got back to school a few days later, my students—adolescent kids living halfway around the world from their homes in the U.S.—were eager to talk about the event. The teachers were too.
Our art teacher created banners for the students to paint messages of hope on, and of course we wanted the health classes to be involved.
For students who weren’t aware of what had happened, I found a great clip from the Wall Street Journal that—in a nonpartisan way—describes what the survivors have been up to since the shooting and how they’ve harnessed the power of social media to further their cause. If you’re teaching kids about advocacy, I can’t recommend this clip or its message enough.
In my next class, I asked my students to reflect on the video and what they’ve learned from the survivors of Stoneman Douglas so far. Their responses absolutely blew me away, so I asked them if I could share them in this post.
Here’s what they had to say:
I think the kids speaking up against gun rights are very brave, however it's really sad that 17 kids had to die in a shooting to make change start. Their use of social media to advocate about their opinions is really inspiring, and they're really trying to prevent situations like this from occurring again in the future. These students are making the future they're going to live in a safer place.
-Maya, age 12, U.S.A.
I think it was extremely strong and courageous for the survivors at Stoneman Douglas High to channel their grief and anger towards making a real difference in our world. From their brave examples of advocacy, we have seen the true power of social media. We can learn how important social media is when it comes to speaking up for your own voice, and for the voice of others. Social media has the ability to influence and inspire a large number of people in our world today—a world where the voices of people are hardly ever heard. Social media has the power to finally make a change.
-Becky, age 12, Canada
I believe that the Stoneman Douglas students have done a great job at advocating for stricter gun laws. So many people before them have advocated and failed, but these students are already raising huge awareness everywhere about Gun Control. They've even made it into the Chinese News. I learned that if you want something to change, just organize a bunch of people with the same idea and take action.
-Daniel, age 13, USA
I think that although many people think that social media is disruptive or addictive, it can actually help our society in times of protest or when we want to spread news. Although there are often many shootings, the Stoneman Douglas students actually are going the extra mile by confronting the NRA and hosting rallies and marches. All of these require supporters, and by using social media as one of their main ways of getting the attention of other teens, they can get a much bigger following of people willing to support their cause, and that can bring power to their movement.
-Sam, age 14, South Korea
So… are we going to D.C. for a class trip on the 24th, or what?
-Aaron, age 13, U.S.A.
Experts say that the influence of social media has shifted the number one value of teenagers to fame. While it might not be what I want for my students, it’s awesome to see them embracing idols who get attention for standing up for what they believe in as opposed to pulling thoughtless and offensive pranks for “likes.” Maybe this means we can finally stop worrying about Logan Paul.
Oh, and my students have a favor to ask: Since it’ll be hard for us to pull off that class trip from Shanghai to D.C. on March 24, please go and march in support where you can.
This lesson corresponds to the National Health Education Standard 8: Students will advocate for personal, family, and community health.