Students and Civil Disobedience: A Reading List

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The right to public protest is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, but it’s often presented in the classroom as a historical relic–or an activity solely for adults. Here are some resources that can expose students to this type of activism, both in the past and happening here and now.

Note: resources are grouped by suggested age-level, but may well be appropriate for students of many ages.

For elementary grade students:

  • Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside, by Kenneth Braswell, as profiled at The Root. Braswell’s book deals with contemporary Black Lives Matter protests as well as previous civil rights protests. Written for kids ages 6-9.
  • From Watch the Yard, a great reading list: “10 Multi-Cultural Children’s Books about the Importance of Protesting that Every Child Should Read.” Titles cover the March on Washington, the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mama Miti (Wangari Muta Maathai)–and that’s just for a start.

For middle-grade students:

Gwen Gamble had just been released from jail and didn’t want to go back. Shortly before the crusade, the teenager had been arrested for participating in a lunch-counter sit-in and jailed for five days. “We were put in with people who had actually broken the law. It was scary. They weren’t nice,” says Gamble, who was 15.

She and her two sisters were trained by the movement to be recruiters for the Children’s Crusade. On the first day of the march, they went to several schools and gave students the cue to leave. They then made their way to 16th Street Baptist.

“We left the church with our picket signs and our walking shoes,” says Gamble. “Some of us even had on our rain coats because we knew that we were going to be hosed down by the water hoses.”

  • More information on the Children’s Crusade appropriate for middle and high school students can be found at Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia.

For high school students:

Despite warnings from teachers that there could be consequences for ditching class, students said they were proud to stand up for their beliefs.

Yesenia Flores, 15, a sophomore at Roosevelt High, held a sign: “Trump makes us fear for our lives.”

“All I’ve wanted to do is make my parents proud,” she said. “I can’t make my parents proud if they’re not here.”

Blanca Villaseor, a sophomore at Collegiate Charter High, said she was protesting the president-elect on behalf of her parents. The sign she was holding read: “Latinos contra Trump” — Spanish for Latinos against Trump.

Suzanne Rueda, 15, a sophomore at the downtown Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, said she’d been protesting since the day after the election. As of Monday, she hadn’t been reprimanded for missing class, but she said she’d heard an announcement that morning over the school intercom that students who missed school could be suspended. She thought that was misguided.

“It feels like we’re leading ourselves,” she said. “We can’t vote. This is all we can do.”

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