Last Wednesday, March 14, I was unsure what to expect in my classes. All major news outlets were covering the national walkout. Aerial footage showed scenes of thousands of students from schools across the nation walking out to voice demand for new gun legislation. That time would soon hit the west coast, and at 10:17 in the morning, I would have to react to the potential of my students walking out.
Leading up to the walkout, I oscillated between addressing it directly or going on with business as usual. Then, watching students from Florida speak out about the event, I realized I had never seen teenagers so passionate about a social issue. Since my classes were currently in an argumentative writing unit, I decided to use the event as a teachable moment. Too often students are asked to respond to arguments that are purely part of the adult world; therefore, students have little interest in the topics. As a result, their claims and reasoning seemed forced and inauthentic. Their arguments then suffer.
Several characteristics of the walkout lent themselves as a study of effective argument. As students that day were deciding whether or not to participate in the walkout, I wanted them to make that decision with an understanding of the argument it made. Students in my classes generally have a decent ability to write effective arguments; however, teaching the more nuanced and abstract characteristics of effective argument is a challenge. I found contextualizing these concepts with the walkout made them relevant to the students; it gave them something they understood and were invested in as teenagers to attach this new knowledge.
We first analyzed the movement to introduce the idea of warrant in argument – the shared values and knowledge between author and reader upon which a claim rests. Even though there are multiple sides to the issue of gun legislation, showing scenes of students pleading for measures to be taken to end these atrocities helped students understand that all sides of argument shared the value for school safety. Understanding this concept and considering the values they share with their opposition helps students write claims that appeal to their audience – a way to meet the demand of the Common Core’s call to write knowledgeable claims.
The walkout also teaches students that issues are not binary. While the walkout calls for a change in gun laws, several survivors and parents of victims from the Parkland, Florida shooting last month have opposed the walkout, claiming gun legislation is a simple, ineffective solution to a complex problem. Common Core writing standards emphasizes that a student should be able to distinguish his/her claim from opposing claims in an argument, recognizing that there will often be more than two positions on an issue. The individuals opposing the walkout movement are part of the alternative “walk up” movement, positing that forging connections with often ostracized students and increasing awareness for mental health issues will have more of an impact. On the day of the walkout, I put together a collection of news links and articles representing several different claims to addressing school violence. Having the collection of news coverage links and hard copies of articles spread across their desks gave a visual representation of how diverse claims in an argument really are, that they are rarely either-or.
Most importantly, the walkout shows students that their voices can effect change. While the effect on gun legislation has yet to be seen, the movement has already had national influence. CNN.com reported on February 26th that student survivors from Parkland began using social media to call for boycotts of companies who offer perks for discounts for NRA members, and since those calls, more than a dozen companies have dropped their NRA partnerships.
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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