June 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teen Power | Editorial

Pennridge High School students protest
during a Saturday detention.
Video tweeted by Anna Sophie Tinneny (@annatinn), March 17.

The voices from the teen activists across the nation are loud. Loud and welcome. It has been thrilling to watch the #NeverAgain movement rise. Adults have a special opportunity to stand up with them.

This movement, born from tragedy, has much to teach us. The teens who have raised their voices to demand action on gun control have the floor. People are listening, including educators and ­librarians who are helping these young people be ­effective organizers and agents of change. Now is the time to help deepen the connection that teens are forging with the process of governance, and enrich the understanding of the role of protest in a healthy democracy. Talk about an opportunity to ­foster civic literacy.

Then there’s the literacy of activism. This involves all aspects of the process and practices of engaging in nonviolent protest, as well as insight into what shapes effective communication. Activism involves coalition building, social organizing, forming and articulating arguments, and understanding the political system, even when it is unstable, plus how civil disobedience has shaped society. It also involves knowing the rules, and when you are breaking them—if you choose to. Look to the comic Be Heard!, released last month in the days before the March 14 National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives 10 days later. Created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the National Coalition Against Censorship, it’s a tool for awareness building and a guide to the rights and risks of protest, with resources.

Sometimes, though, it’s just time to learn from the teens themselves. One inspiring moment occurred five days after the walkout at Pennridge High School in Bucks County, PA. Students who had gotten detention for walking out instead of taking part in a memorial the school had coordinated made the moment matter. According to the Morning Call and seen in a video (pictured) tweeted by Pennridge senior Anna Sophie Tinneny, the students left their seats and, some with the names and ages of the Parkland victims pinned to their shirts, gathered together in a circle while stacking flowers in the middle of the group. On point, peaceful, and poignant, this gesture reflected conviction in a message—a model for any activist.

Even if we oppose their point of view—and perhaps especially then—we should all support every teenager’s right to express themselves. We should challenge their arguments, and help build their skills, by modeling a hunger for opinions backed by facts. We should provide insight into possible paths ahead by showing them examples from past movements. This will help empower the next generation of political engagement. That is standing with them.


Rebecca T. Miller

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.



  1. On April 11 students from more than 200 schools will hold pro-life walkouts to protest abortion.

    Looking forward to the next issue of SLJ and its editorial gushing that “it’s time to learn from the teens themselves,” and features about “educators and librarians who are helping these young people be effective organizers and agents of change.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    After the gun walkout, SLJ ran a gushing article complete with photographs about a high school library in one of the Carolinas that supported the walkout with a display and sign. I think it is therefore completely fair to expect an SLJ article on how librarians supported the pro-life walkouts today. If there is no article, or an even an addressing of the issue, that speaks loudly. And just because it wasn’t massively covered in the news or attended does not matter. Justice has nothing to do with the size of a crowd.


Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind