The Teacher Who Helped Prepare the Parkland Students for Activism

The fact that we’re still talking about how to prevent school shootings two weeks after the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School is a result of the effective advocacy we’re seeing from the surviving students.

I’ve already written about why these Generation Z-ers are so well equipped to take on this challenge; they’re smart, tech savvy, and passionate. But Jorge Rivas adds an important piece to the puzzle. Many of the most vocal students were taking an AP United States Government and Politics course this year from Jeff Foster, who helped create the AP government curriculum for the entire Broward County Public Schools system.

Interestingly enough, Foster worked in finance for a few years before taking up teaching. He’s now been at it for almost 20 years and has been referred to by students as “the patron saint of every senior class.” Lately some people have accused Foster of being a communist. But he’s actually a registered Republican who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Take a look at what students like Emma Gonzales and David Hogg were discussing in Foster’s class two weeks ago, just before the shooting started:

On the day of the shooting, Foster taught the AP Gov students about special interest groups, like the NAACP, American Medical Association, and the National Rifle Association. His lesson plan that day included a discussion about the Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings, with emphasis on how every politician comes out afterward a tragedy to say the right thing about changing gun regulation. The students learned how the NRA goes to work as soon news reporters and the public move on to the next story.

There was an exam scheduled for the next day. To the extent the students were prepared for it, this is what they would have had to know:

The exam was supposed to include a free response question asking students what techniques the NRA used to be successful. The students were supposed to discuss how the NRA used mass mobilization, campaign contributions, and litigation to push their agenda forward.

Do you think that any of that helped prepare students like Delaney Tarr?

Beyond expressing support for these Parkland students, here’s what we can learn from them:

They are a testament to what public schools can produce if students have support at home and in well-funded schools…

“It’s unfortunate not all schools are funded the way we are. We have a lot of resources at our school,” Foster says.

Dahlia Lithwick documents what some of those resources provide to the students at Stoneman Douglas High School, beyond Mr. Foster’s class. Many of them participated in the school’s debate and drama programs as well as the school newspaper.

Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out…

To be sure, the story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students is a story about the benefits of being a relatively wealthy school district at a moment in which public education is being vivisected without remorse or mercy. But unless you’re drinking the strongest form of Kool-Aid, there is simply no way to construct a conspiracy theory around the fact that students who were being painstakingly taught about drama, media, free speech, political activism, and forensics became the epicenter of the school-violence crisis and handled it creditably. The more likely explanation is that extracurricular education—one that focuses on skills beyond standardized testing and rankings—creates passionate citizens who are spring-loaded for citizenship.

Just imagine what could happen if every student in this country had access to those kinds of resources and support. George H.W. Bush used to talk about “a thousand points of light.” That would be small potatoes compared to the million points of light we could spark if every young person in this country was as prepared as these students from Parkland were on the day that tragedy struck their world.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .