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School shooting protests provide teachable moment on touchy topic

Students consider meaning of Second Amendment

Wyoming Junior High eighth-graders considered what is arguably the most debated sentence in the U.S. today: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Like in many discussions surrounding interpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students’ questions and comments focused on the words “militia” and “well-regulated” and what they mean in relation to the rest of the sentence. Their definitions varied concerning the intention of the amendment.

‘It’s important to learn both sides so we can form our own opinions about what we think.’ — eighth-grader Aleena Allen

Prior to the March 14 student walkout protesting gun violence in schools, Wyoming Junior High eighth-graders read and discussed different perspectives — right, left and center — on the amendment, gun rights and what measures should be taken to stop mass shootings.

While learning that much is up to interpretation when it comes to constitutional gun rights, students studied the history behind the amendment and reflected on how they feel it should apply to society today. They then wrote letters to legislators, adding their own voices to the debate.

Brian Juarez-Diaz jots down his thoughts

Considering Various Views

English teacher Shantel VanderGalien said she felt it was important to bring the topic into her curriculum, rather than avoid something on the forefront of students’ minds on days leading up to the National School Walk Out. She used a Mass Shooting Unit created by teacher, author and consultant Kelly Gallagher, with sources including articles both supportive and against stricter gun laws. They listened to a podcast, shared in groups to hear different opinions, and considered pros and cons of each side of the gun-control debate.

“I feel like we have to create time and space for our students to reflect on important issues,” VanderGalien said. ”If there is a way I can get them to read, write and think critically about those issues, I want to give them that time and space.”

She said she hopes the unit encourages students to keep up with the news, learn facts surrounding issues, and listen to varying points of view.

Eighth-grader Lizzie Ochoa listens to perspectives on the Second Amendment

“I want them to be informed and make their own decisions,” in an age when people tend to avoid or “unfriend” those with whom they disagree, she said. “I feel it’s important that we don’t hide, shy away or shun people who think differently, but instead we need to to lean into that discomfort, ask questions and seek to understand instead of isolate.”

Penning their Perspectives

Students wrote letters to local politicians including Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), President Trump and Governor Rick Snyder.

Researching different sides of the debate provides a better foundation of information, said eighth-grader Trista Werkema, noting, “This is real-life stuff that can happen at any point in our school.”

She said she planned to emphasize in her letter that students’ perspectives matter.

Neveah Morofsky writes a definition of the Second Amendment

“Just because we are kids doesn’t mean we don’t have knowledge about what’s going on,” Trista said. “We may even be more educated than our parents on it because they’re not reading all these articles and stuff like we are.”

Added Marissa Menard, “As we get older, things will progress, social media will progress and that influences the way we think about things, so it’s important for us to know what’s going on in the world.”

She said she planned to push for increased gun restrictions in her letter.

“If this is the world we have to grow up in, it’s not going be a very safe world and we deserve the same opportunity as everyone else had.”

Eighth-grader Aleena Allen said it’s not enough to address just guns. She said her letter would support better resources for mental health.

Aiden Curtis takes notes on editorials about the Second Amendment

“It’s important to learn both sides so we can form our own opinions about what we think about this very controversial topic, so we can say, ‘Hey, this is what we think and we will argue our case and find out what other people think,’” she said.

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Resources for Talking and Teaching About the School Shooting in Florida

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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