Teaching Protests

Considering the idea that public school students should be given instruction in how to protest.

The events of late in Ferguson, Missouri give a lot to think about. Not so much about who was right or wrong, either in the initial incident, nor in the response, but in how to change the responses for the next time humans butt heads in our society. That is inevitable, at least at present.

Foremost, we do have an education problem. We do not train people how to protest. And our training for how the police respond to protests is inadequate. We should have both.

Teaching protests could begin in grade school with some exercises tied in with already common activities. Classes often walk in lines when the class migrates around the school campus, for example. That could be used in a lesson for protesting. The act of marching to the protest site in a line could help trigger pre-protest discipline, getting protesters in the mindset of advocacy as public performance.

Proper protesting is a very disciplined activity. Being led off-point adds danger to protest, and also weakens the message of the demonstration. It gives opponents (both those generally opposed to dissent and those specifically opposed to the activists’ views) ways to distract from the message both at the time and in the media afterward.

Protesters should all be assigned roles. Some should be tasked with first aid or other assistance. Others should be responsible for leading lines or chants. Still others should act as spotters, alerting the group to media, counter-protests, police, and other changes in the environment. And so forth. The use of assigned roles allows for the further development of group discipline and helps avoid distraction.

At the grade school level there is little effort to teach these roles, but pupils often seek them out anyway. During recess, for example. The merry-go-round offers the chance for one student to lead the effort of spinning the apparatus, coordinating the efforts of the others. Swings may also offer organizational development, if the group wishes to have the swings either line up or alternate.

During later years, especially in high school, students could participate in bona fide protests. They could be tasked with selecting a cause, organizing, and executing a protest at the local level over an important community issue. Some high school students already may do this, but it is organic and only reaches those who are awakened to the need for activation at a young age.

With the obvious need for public dissent, and the general lack of education of how to proceed, it is clear that future generations can benefit from public education that includes instruction in activism.


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