Teaching About Protests

Introduction

In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government. The right to protest is fundamental in a democracy. A protest is defined as “an event or action where people gather with others to publicly express their opinions about something that is happening in society” (ADL). Protests are carried out with a variety of goals in mind, but protesters are ultimately demanding change. The United States has a long history of protests, considering our country itself resulting from a large protest movement, and the youth have often been at the forefront of these protests. Teaching about protests is important because students are the future of our country and therefore should be given the opportunity to understand the role of protest in a democracy and its widespread impacts.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about protests and their significance. For educators who want to teach about topics related to protests, U4SC also offers Teaching About Black Lives Matter, Teaching About George Floyd’s Murder Trial, and Teaching About Democracy. In addition, for those who want to teach their students about more rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, U4SC has Teaching About Freedom of Speech, Teaching About Freedom of the Press, and Teaching About Freedom of Religion!

Lesson Plans

  1. Understanding “Protest” – Concept Formation Lesson Plan: The Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium of the University of Washington has created a lesson plan on understanding protest. The objective of this lesson plan is to help students understand the concept of protest by breaking it down into multiple parts and by analyzing different types of protests by racial groups in Seattle and Washington during the mid-1900s. In the lesson itself, students will examine examples and non-examples of protests in groups and individually. This lesson is available for teachers to download in Word format along with a data retrieval chart, packet of protest examples, and a packet of non-examples for students. 
  2. Taking It to the Streets – A Year of Global Protests: The Choices Program from Brown University provides a lesson on global protest movements over the past year. In this lesson, students will examine photographs of protests from around the world, develop questions about the photographs using the Question Formulation Technique (QTF), and analyze similarities, differences, and patterns in these protests. In addition to the detailed directions for teachers on how to conduct this lesson, there are several handouts, a list of suggested media sources, and a slideshow for teachers to utilize!
  3. Deliberative Classroom – Democracy, Protest and Change: The Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) has put together a Deliberative Classroom pack of resources that focus on the topic of democracy, protest, and change. There are three lesson plans in this pack that are accompanied by activity instructions and ready to use student resources: What is Democracy?, Influencing Change, and Can Violence Ever Be Justified?.
  4. Smithsonian’s History Explorer – Protest and Civil Action: Smithsonian’s History Explorer has set aside collections of the Museum’s key resources related to protest and civic action for students to examine. These collections include American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, First Amendment, Join the Student Sit-Ins Classroom Videos, March on Washington DBQ, Patriotism, Protest Signs, and many more!
  5. Revolution ’67, Lesson 1 – Protest – Why and How: EDSITEment offers a lesson plan on the Newark riots of 1967 that hones in on why and how people protest. The main goals of this lesson are for students to understand some of the reasons why people protest against government policies or laws, various methods for protest, and the conditions under which people choose to protest. 
  6. PBS LearningMedia – Peaceful Protests: PBS LearningMedia provides a lesson plan on peaceful protests. This lesson uses a video from Women, War & Peace: “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” to help students learn about nonviolent resistance movements that have occurred across the globe. It includes an introductory activity, two learning activities, and a culminating activity along with several media resources, materials, and websites!
  7. Teaching Ideas and Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the George Floyd Protests: The New York Times offers teaching ideas and resources to help students make sense of the George Floyd protests. This teaching and learning resource focuses on understanding systemic racism, the history of policing in the United States, the right to protest, looking for leadership, the role of the media, misinformation and disinformation, and taking action and taking care. Learning about these demonstrations will help students better understand the importance and role of protest in our society!

Articles

  1. The Purpose and Power of Protest: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides an article about the purpose and power of protest as a part of their table talk series dedicated to family conversations about current events. The article discusses what protests are, non-violent resistance, protests and the First Amendment, history of protests, questions to start the conversation and dig deeper, how to take action, and additional resources. For educators who are looking for a resource to guide them in how to approach talking with students about protests, especially in light of the most recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, this guide will be very helpful!
  2. Protesting Is As Important As Voting: The Brookings Institution has published an article explaining why protesting is as important as voting. Historically, there has been the notion that voting is the only way for people to use their individual voices to create policy change, but as national protests have grown, our society is being shown that there are other ways to influence policy. Therefore, this article analyzes the impacts of protesting and then goes on to show why protests are just as important and influential as voting when it comes to making change!
  3. Do Protests Even Work?: The Atlantic provides an article discussing if protests even work. It explains how protests do work but not in the way and timeframe that most people think. Though many protests may seem like they fail in the short term, the power is in their long term effects on protestors and the rest of society. For educators who want their students to grasp the effectiveness of protests in today’s world, this article does a great job of breaking it down!
  4. Talking With Kids About Protest (Ages 6 & Under): The Article 20 Network has created a parents guide to talking with kids ages 6 and under about protest. This guide discusses why it is important, the universal story of protest (unfairness and powerlessness), grown-up protests, nonviolence (using our words), race and protest, suggestions for further discussion, and after your child’s first protest. Though this guide was put together with parents in mind, these same suggestions can be used by teachers in their classrooms.
  5. The Forgotten March: The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has published an article on the 1932 veterans’ protest in Washington, which has had a lasting impact on American history but has since been forgotten from the history books. The article breaks down this forgotten march, including the reasons for this march, the march itself, and its significant impact.
  6. Understanding Protests – The Importance of Meaningful Dialogue: The American Bar Association (ABA) provides an article on understanding protests, focusing on the importance of meaningful dialogue. This article first discusses how America was born from a protest. It then goes on to examine the concept of meaningful dialogue, specifically the role of listening and how we can dialogue.
  7. U.S. States Take Aim at Protesters’ Rights: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) offers a very brief article that discusses how the United States is taking an aim at protesters’ rights. Peaceful protests are protected by the First Amendment, but there are several bills under consideration in various states that threaten the right to peaceful assembly. 

Informational Sites

  1. Interpretation – Right to Assemble and Petition: The National Constitution Center offers a common interpretation of the right to assemble and petition. This resource breaks down the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” and to “petition the government for redress of grievances” from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
  2. History.com – Protests: History.com has published a multitude of informational articles on protests. Examples of some topics of the articles in this collection are the Homestead Strike, how Columbia’s student uprising of 1968 was sparked by a segregated Gym, the Orangeburg Massacre, why MLK encouraged 225,000 Chicago kids to cut class in 1963, and many more.
  3. Global Protest Tracker: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has created a global protest tracker—“a one-stop source for following crucial trends in the most significant antigovernment protests worldwide since 2017.”
  4. The First Amendment Right to Protest Has Limits: The Freedom Forum provides a brief article on the limits to the First Amendment right to protest. This article describes where our free speech rights end and where the government is able to step in to punish speakers or prevent protests and demonstrations.
  5. 2020 Is Not 1968 – To Understand Today’s Protests, You Must Look Further Back: National Geographic has published an informational article explaining that in order to understand today’s protests against racial inequality, we must look further back. The article talks about the Red Summer, fighting fascism abroad and racism at home, the turbulent Sixties, and changing the face of protest.
  6. Protest Resilience Toolkit: The Protest Resilience Toolkit from CIVICUS offers information on the right to protest, best practice and recommendations, tactics for overcoming challenges, fostering collaboration, strategies for sustainable protest, and protest personality.
  7. Know Your Rights – Protesters’ Rights: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offers information on protesters’ rights. Users can select a scenario from the following choices: I’m organizing a protest, I’m attending a protest, I want to take pictures or shoot video at a protest, and I was stopped by the police while protesting. From there, they can read about their rights, what to do if they believe their rights have been violated, and more related topics. Whether or not students have attended a protest or plan on attending one in the future, this resource is a good one for them to take a look at so they can further understand their rights!

Conclusion

Teaching about protests is very important, especially considering the recent protests after the murder of George Floyd, which may have been the largest protest movement in United States history. Protests allow people to express their opinions and possibly have an impact in policy changes outside of voting in elections. In particular, protests give marginalized groups the opportunity to raise their concerns and stand for what they believe in. While teaching about protests, educators should be sure to give students time to share their own experiences with attending protests if they have any!

Additional Resources

  1. 10 Facts About U.S. Protests in History: The University of California Press (UC Press) Blog provides 10 facts about U.S. protests in history, including the 1963 March on Washington and the 2017 Women’s Marches.

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