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Image from the storyProtecting the Environment Through Civic Activism

Target Grade Levels:
Grades 7-12

Environment, Civic Engagement

• The Activity
• Relevant National Standards
• Cross-Curricular Activities
• Ties to Literature

The Activity

Before class, put a large mirror in the front of the class and cover it with a cloth. Begin class by asking students what an activist is. What do activists do? What do they look like? Explain that under the cloth is an image of a very important activist in your community. Then, remove the cloth and walk the mirror around the room so that students see their own reflection. Ask them if they think of themselves as activists, or if they can imagine themselves working to achieve goals that will improve their community. Why or why not?

Next, tell students that you are going to have them watch a brief video about a group of surfer-turned-activists who stood up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and prevented the destruction of their favorite reef. Ask students to take notes as they watch on the strategies the surfers use to achieve their goal.

Then, show the class the approximately 15-minute FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut video, "Samurai Surfers".

After the video, list the strategies that students saw the surfers use to overcome obstacles and attain their goal. How did each strategy influence the government or build support for their cause? What alternative strategies could have been used? How did the law provide for the peaceful management of this conflict? What might have happened if the surfers had chosen violence as a way of stopping the dumping activities?

Discuss also what individual and public goals were achieved, thanks to the efforts of the surfers. How might a goal with both personal and public benefits influence the support for and outcome of activist activities?

Next, have students work with a partner to identify something in your school or community that could be improved. Ask them to then create an activist's action plan that explicitly states the goal to be achieved, the personal and public benefits associated with that goal, and specific strategies that could be used to attain it. Have them also note individuals or groups that would be excellent partners to help with the cause.

As part of the process of developing the action plans, allow students time to exchange drafts with other partnerships to gather feedback and additional ideas. Students may also get ideas and inspiration by reviewing stories of actual youth civic engagement activities available at the What Kids Can Do Web site

Consider providing extra credit for students who work to implement their action plan. Students in states with service learning hour requirements for graduation may also be able to use their action plans for that purpose.

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Relevant National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), at

Civics Standard 3
Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good

Level IV, Benchmark 2
Knows alternative ideas about the purposes and functions of law (e.g., regulating relationships among people and between people and their government; providing order, predictability, security, and established procedures for the management of conflict; regulating social and economic relationships in civil society)

Civics Standard 28
Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals

Level III, Benchmark 1
Understands how participation in civic and political life can help bring about the attainment of individual and public goals (e.g., personal goals such as living in a safe and orderly neighborhood, obtaining a good education, living in a healthy environment; public goals such as increasing the safety of the community, improving local transportation facilities, providing opportunities for education and recreation)

Level III, Benchmark 3
Understands how Americans can use the following means to monitor and influence politics and government at local, state, and national levels: joining political parties, interest groups, and other organizations that attempt to influence public policy and elections; voting; taking part in peaceful demonstrations; circulating and signing petitions

Level IV, Benchmark 3
Knows the many ways citizens can participate in the political process at local, state, and national levels, and understands the usefulness of other forms of political participation in influencing public policy (e.g., attending political and governmental meetings, demonstrating, contacting public officials, writing letters, boycotting, community organizing, petitioning, picketing)

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Cross-Curricular Activities
Consider building on the themes of the above activity by working with colleagues in other disciplines to conduct the following activities.

Protest Violence With Painting (Art)

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