The following column appeared in a number of ECM/Sun Current newspapers in Feb-March, 2018
History tells us that young people trying to make America safer via better gun policies can make a difference. That’s if, and it’s a big if, they learn from past efforts to change America. Whether parents, grandparents or educators, adults can help youngsters understand what has and hasn’t worked to make America better.
Young Minnesotans are joining others to urge changes in gun policies. As I write this column, a website lists efforts by students in Apple Valley, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Osseo, St. Paul and Wayzata. Info is found here: http://bit.ly/2DKVi2L.
I can’t independently verify this. But clearly some youngsters are making plans.
I’m not advocating here for a specific local, state or national policy. That’s beyond my expertise, although I strongly believe changes are needed.
But I think adults should help young people understand past efforts to, for example, increase civil rights and end the war in Vietnam. Educators should help their students decide what to do without telling them what to do.
Many years ago, activist Peter Marin wrote about the “open truth and fiery vehemence of youth.” Marin skillfully described the complexity of issues such as gun violence and the passion that many young people feel.
Here are four lessons to consider.
First, persistence is vital. Very few changes are made in a day, week or month. That is not meant to discourage youngsters. It is meant to help them understand in a democracy, change almost never happens quickly.
Second, there are not just two “sides” in this, and many other controversies. Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam wrote a wonderful book about young civil rights activists, “The Children.” Halberstam makes clear that teenagers made a huge difference in the civil rights era. He documents that leaders and followers sometimes intensely disagreed about strategies and goals. Some favored demonstrations, while others promoted lawsuits, voter registration or “bus rides.” Some wanted to stress voting rights, while others focused on school integration or housing. There was no single “truth” about what the country should do or what strategies should be used.
That leads to a third lesson: It’s wise to study the issue and listen to different viewpoints. Research on gun control is not always definitive.
This is not a defense of the status quo. However, studying what has and has not worked in this and other countries makes a person more informed and potentially more effective.
Fourth, coalitions can be helpful. I’m encouraged that some gun owners are speaking out publicly, saying that more must be done. Over decades of social change in America, we’ve learned that bringing together people who don’t always agree increases the likelihood that we’ll see progress.
Young people also have plenty to teach older people like me. For example, I’m in awe of how some are using social media to organize and share information. And the passion that many youngsters bring to this effort is heartening. They are being heard.
As I write this column President Donald Trump is being quoted by various news sources as saying: “We cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make a difference.” I didn’t vote for President Trump and question many of his actions. But this statement suggests he is feeling pressure. That’s good.
Educators call our current situation a “teachable moment.” Millions of young people are upset about school shootings and want to “do something.” Adults can help youngsters do something that makes this a safer country. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JoeNathan9249.)