Generation Z: Literally Active Citizens! – Lesson Idea for Primary and Secondary Students

We’ve all heard about the Millennials and their love for smashed avocado, we know all about the hard working Generation Xers and how Baby Boomers own more than half of Australia’s wealth. But there’s a new generation on the books and they’re not letting anyone else define what or who they are. The Age’s ‘Good Weekend’ magazine published a feature article by Amelia Lester entitled “Generation Z: politicised by necessity and already changing the world” which examines the recent burst of political action and active citizenship which is becoming synonymous with the youth of today. This new generation who have grown up in the shadow of technology, war, and an unstable economy stand in contrast to the Millennials who have been criticised (perhaps unfairly) for their lack of passion and disengagement with the political process; indeed, it has been suggested that Millennials are jaded and disillusioned with democracy and democratic process as a whole. Lester instead paints a hopeful image and bright future of Gen Z as world changers and activists.

The difference, she suggests, lies in the different worlds the generations grew up in. Millennials grew up in the 80s and 90s in a relatively carefree world- enjoying running underneath sprinklers with no thought of water restrictions, eating peanut butter sandwiches at school, playing on playgrounds without padded flooring- before this innocence was shattered by September 11 and the outbreak of war, or if we’re looking at a domestic American context, the 1997 Columbine school shooting. In contrast, Gen Z grew up in this turbulent world of instability. It’s their reality but they’ve arguably not seen any real, lasting change following attempts to fix it. For many, all they’ve seen are band-aid solutions of heightened security, bans on backpacks and metal detectors everywhere. They’re angry, instead of disappointed. They want to control their future, not inherit it.

It only makes sense that after a lifetime of this simmering frustration at the lack of real change, Gen Z is stepping up and taking matters into their own hands. Lester goes on to point out that the books they’ve grown up on are also encouraging this independent activism and politicisation. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, two of the biggest selling and most read books of the generation, both depict teenagers standing up and making their voice heard in varying ways and methods, acting as a guide book for their readers. In Harry Potter, Hermione Granger starts an advocacy group for marginalised and disadvantaged workers while the Lovegood family publish “real news” which stands for the truth, even when major newspapers work for those in power. There are focuses on auxillary supporters too- those who write letters and broadcast protest radio programs, those who strike, those who march, those who call upon the government for free and fair elections. We engage with this new reality on our website, encouraging students to ask themselves “How Political Am I?” and see how just being interested in making the world a better place is actually a political act!

This literary diet of young people Getting Stuff Done has no doubt fed the idea that activism works. And it does! But what we need to do as educators is to feed this appetite for change with useful and productive  things. We need to teach students about the way they can effect change through excercising their rights as active citizens and we need to ensure they know what these rights actually are. They need to know who to go to when they have ideas, concerns or complaints regarding how their society is governed at a local, state and federal level. They need to know when and how to vote to ensure their voice is heard in legitimate and tangible ways.

We need to teach them that it’s important to use the systems that are in place because that’s what The Bad Guys will be doing too, and it’s important that they fight for transparency, openness and accountability from their elected officials. It’s vital that they get their information about this process from an unbiased source.

Which is where we come in.

As former classroom teachers, the Passport to Democracy team are passionate about educating Generation Z, and all the generations who come before and after. We’re passionate about democracy, feeling strongly that education is the key to ensuring young citizens can bring changes to our world in ways that are constructive and long lasting. One way we do this is through the Activate component of the (totally free!) Passport to Democracy resource.

This free VEC resource is organised in four parts, the third of which is Activate (which can culminate in the final Vote section if desired). The first two sections, Decide and Research, ensure that the students are both engaged and well informed with the issue they’ve chosen, particularly ensuring that they’ve used good research practices to source their information, emphasising the importance of measured, factually correct and relevant background information. After becoming experts on a topic, students are asked, in Lesson One, Activity 6, to choose which actions are most effective and achievable from a supplied list. While the content is important, the skills we’ve built into the program, such as student led group work and discussion, is paramount for their success as active citizens. The activity works to deliberately set up working team environments where everyone takes their place, says their piece, and everyone is heard and valued. No activist is an island and our students must learn that. Harry had Hermione and Ron, Katniss had Haymitch and Cinna, The Parkland students have worked and stood together.

As a supplementary activity to the existing resources which are available on the Passport to Democracy website, I’ve put together a short entrance task which asks students to engage with fictional activists (they’re likely to already be familiar with them!) and identify their techniques and causes, linking them to real issues.

This not only engages students by using characters that they may already know and can relate to, but also forces them to use higher order thinking to extrapolate their existing knowledge. It can be used as an opening task to an entire unit on democracy and active citizenship, a way to start or finish a lesson where students are looking at different types of activism, or a task which students can complete independently as homework, an extension task or in cases where a CRT is covering the class. This could also be completed as a group task.

I hope the resource is useful for you. Let me know if you’ve used it and how it worked!

We have an incredible group of young people who are active and ready to take on the challenges presented by living in this world. To equip young people for these challenges is a great responsibility, but as it is also our world that they’ll be changing, it is a great pleasure too. We’ve raised this generation on stories of young adults creating their own paths and standing up to injustice. We must now provide them with the understanding of the systems they can use to see this change happen.

Bibliography

Lester, A. (2018, April 28). Generation Z: politicised by necessity and already changing the world. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from The Age: https://www.theage.com.au/world/north-america/generation-z-politicised-by-necessity-and-already-changing-the-world-20180424-p4zbcu.html

ACTIVITY – Fictional activism

Key Knowledge and Skills Met

Civics and Citizenship

Investigate why and how people participate within communities and cultural and social groups (VCCCC006)

Investigate how people with shared beliefs and values work together to achieve their goals and plan for action (VCCCC016)

Explain how citizens can participate in Australia’s democracy, including the use of the electoral system, contact with their elected representatives, use of lobby groups, interest groups and direct action (VCCCG020)

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