New course at Concord High explores social movements’ impact on history 

  • Julia Peabody-Harhigh (left), Erik Forsten (center) and Lily Johnson (right) talk about a new social studies course at Concord High School they took in the fall, ‘Social Movements: Power to the People.’ LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Students Julia Peabody Harhigh (left), Erik Forsten (center) and Lily Johnson discuss a new social studies course at Concord High School they took in the fall titled “Social Movements: Power to the People.” LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Sean Tierney (left), Julia Peabody-Harhigh (center) and Erik Forsten (right) talk about a new social studies course at Concord High School they took in the fall, ‘Social Movements: Power to the People.’ LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/10/2019 4:58:52 PM

It’s easy to become an activist on social media.

Users can share articles, posts and comments with a global audience in just a few clicks of a button.

But that isn’t necessarily the most effective strategy for creating social change, said Concord High School senior Julia Peabody-Harhigh.

“It’s easy to think that if you post an opinion on your Twitter, you’ve done your part, but you haven’t,” Peabody-Harhigh said. “Expressing your ideology – whatever that is – on social media is good, but it’s not enough. You need to take action.”

The impact social media has on societal change is one major topic of conversation covered in Concord High School’s new class “Social Movement: Power to the People,” which debuted this fall.

Students like Peabody-Harhigh studied social uprisings like the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War protests to the #MeToo movement, and examined what made each movement successful – and unsuccessful.

Most of them were American social movements, led by young people.

“It was definitely really informative and empowering, to see all the differences students can make,” said Lily Johnson, also a senior.

Johnson studied the more recent “Never Again” movement, led by survivors of the February 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members. In the days following the tragedy, student survivors launched a social media campaign on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook that reached millions of people.

“Within a week of that happening, people were doing walkouts all over the country. That’s pretty amazing,” Johnson said.

There were even reverberations of that movement at Concord High School, where hundreds of students walked out of school several times last year.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ but actually having ideas, actually going through with everything that you’re saying, that’s when a social movement thrives,” Johnson said.

Senior Sean Tierney said he thinks the Never Again or #MeToo movements – both recent movements started over social media – would not have been as successful with young people without taking that approach.

“I think that social media is really beneficial for people who are our age who might not know where to start if they’re interested in these topics,” he said. “It’s in our world and it’s really easy to access.”

Erik Forsten said that because social media is so accessible to young people, it’s motivated a lot of his generation to become not only involved in social movements but realize they have a voice and power in politics.

“The Parkland shooting was the first big instance of kids saying, ‘we really just can’t sit and wait anymore.’ Why not go and protest? Why not march?” he said. “It was the first example of people really understanding that you don’t have to be 18 and have a vote to have a voice.”

The challenge is maintaining a social movement over the course of a long period of time, in an era where new information is at people’s fingertips constantly.

“A million people in front of the White House is amazing in the ’60s, but nowadays, you can pull that together pretty quickly,” he said. “After, you question, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ”

Peabody-Harhigh said she learned something different from each of the social movements she studied. Her favorite was the Columbia University Uprisings in 1968, in which students held sit-ins and marched into the president’s office when they found out the school was planning to build a gym that they felt promoted segregation.

“I think that it’s a really good example of making efforts against something you feel is wrong even though it would have benefited you,” she said.

Tierney said he was moved by the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, one of a few international movements the course covered.

“It’s an extremely heavy topic because a lot of people died,” he said. “It seemed like the most dire situations that a social movement could possibly be involved in.”

Peabody-Harhigh said she thinks Concord High’s social movements class is an important addition to the school’s existing social studies curriculum.

“When I took AP U.S. History, we covered a lot and did not have time to focus on each topic. I think we did the entire Civil Rights movement in just one lecture,” she said. “I really liked delving into specific movements, and more importantly, the theory behind them.”

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