Thursday, December 17, 2015

A fact I wish weren't a fact

On Tuesday, Generation Citizen held its annual Civics Day on Beacon Hill, a time when middle school and high school students from around the greater Boston region get the chance to present their strategies of how to make the world a better place.

It's heartening to be reminded that the responsibility of an individual in society is to be a citizen, an active participant in questions of public importance, and not simply a passive recipient of decisions made elsewhere by other people. This is especially true in the United States, where we all originally came from someplace else and our citizenship is grounded in a set of ideas and ideals. 

The eighth grade students from Josiah Quincy School in Boston's Chinatown focused their project on curbing gun violence. They identified the federal Tiahrt Amendment as a big impediment to safer gun laws.  They have a point. According to Wikipedia, the Tiahrt Amendment prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. This precludes gun trace data from being used in academic research of gun use in crime. Additionally, the law blocks any data legally released from being admissible in civil lawsuits against gun sellers or manufacturers."

That was the substance of their efforts, to get this amendment modified or repealed. But our group discussion focused on their arguments and the presentation of their thinking.

How could they tell a better story, to convince and persuade? Well, a few good examples are often an effective a way of drawing your audience in. Did any of the eighth graders have any experience with gun violence? A girl on my right started to speak. Without hesitating, she listed three people she knew who had been shot -- friends, and friends of her family. This from a 13-year old girl.

With some reluctance, I asked the others in the group if they all had similar stories of gun violence. They all nodded in agreement. 

It's hard not to conclude that we adults have failed these children.