Who would have thought that spending a semester exploring the rhetoric by and surrounding Hillary Clinton over the course of her storied political career would culminate with this question?

And yet, it was the only question on my mind that morning of November 9th as I walked into my high school classroom in the wake of Hillary’s loss.  What do I tell my students?

The candidates and media concentrated on issues that mattered to voters during the election season — and now it was our turn as teachers to concentrate on the issues that matter to our students–the next generation of voters.  How can these youth have a voice?  How can we engage them as productive and active citizens?

My synthesis  evoked Hillary’s empowering maternal plea to the next generation of women in her concession speech:

“And to all the young girls out there who are watching–never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your dreams.”

Obama spoke about a peaceful transition of power and urged young people to not give up hope:

“But to the young people who got into politics for the first time and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, your have to stay encouraged.  Don’t get cynical, don’t ever think you can’t make a difference.”

Classmate BrieDanielle pointed out on the day after that we are all still here  to remind us to remind the kids that it’s time to get to work.  That the time is now to speak up and speak out.

And so now it becomes my turn to model these inspirations and proactively move forward not only to heal personally, but more importantly, to educate and empower my students.

From a rhetoric of inspiration came the motivation to create a lesson plan — a sort of activist campaign in and of itself — around a curriculum that talks about and references historical movements as well as acknowledges current uprisings for justice.  All with the overarching theme of how students can change the roaring rhetoric of this election to a rhetoric of empowerment to affect change.

Making a Change

Members and supporters of the student activist group Concerned Student 1950 chant during a march across the University of Missouri campus on March 7, 2016. (Liv Paggiarino/AP)

Speak Up! Speak Out!

This lesson takes a look at how advocates for change in the civil rights movement used the freedoms of the First Amendment to make their voices heard and achieve their goals. It enables teachers to draw comparisons to present day social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, Stand with Standing Rock, NOW,  and Border Angels, to name a few.  During the lesson students will reflect on past civil rights movements and make historical connections to present civil rights movements as they explore their own civic duty and citizenship.  

Here are some relevant posts on the site to use as reference and resources in framing, informing and personalizing your lesson:

“Visibility and Rhetoric:  Epiphanies and Transformations in the ‘Life’ Photographs of the Selma Marches”  – for historic reference and photographs of the Selma Marches and suggestions for essential questions for guiding class discussion.

Ebony: “What Do Black Women Really Think About Hillary Clinton’s Nomination?” – for information on the Black Youth Project and historical references to Voting Rights Act of 1965

Appealing to the “Intelligent Worker” – for historic details of labor activism

A Rhetoric of Inclusion -for historic connections to the women’s suffrage movement

It only took 168 years – for historic information on the Seneca Falls Conference of 1848–the first activist movement for women’s rights in the U.S.

Who We Are as a Country – Hillary Clinton’s bittersweet full concession speech

Obama on the Peaceful Transition of Power – Obama’s speech about the 2016 election

Clinton on the Call – Hillary’s post-election call to activism

We are all still here. – a plea to stay active and engaged including a list of pro-immigrant, pro-women, pro-earth, and anti-bigotry organizations


Up Next:  Art and Activism

The Beauty of Freedom of Speech

The recent makeshift interactive Post-it Wall art installations occupying NYC subway stations continue to grow since Election Day.  Encouraging passersby to share their causes and messages of hope and unity, these walls visually represent the powerful role that art can play in activism.

Petscortnyc’s Selma Marches post examines the power of art and the rhetoric of the image and how photographs can be a visual rhetoric of empowerment.  She quotes Kathleen Hall Jameson who argued that the civil rights movement “was catalyzed not by eloquent words but eloquent pictures.”


Jameson’s quote and the images of the march that accompany it, resonated with me and encouraged me to move forward on developing another lesson plan in collaboration with the art teacher at my school.  The lesson we are working on will explore activating activism through art in the creation and installation of a school mural entitled A Better World is Possible that will target the theme of tolerance.  Our objective –to help students find their voices as artists and activists simultaneously.  

An inspiration for hopeful things to come.  Stay tuned…

The Class of 2012 Diversity Anti-Homophobia Mural at Lyons Community School


FEATURED IMAGE:  Address Latif/Reuters

PHOTO CREDITS:  via Google Images unless otherwise noted