A recent Occupy Denver general assembly looked suspiciously different than the group's typical gatherings. The 21 people who took part facilitated the agenda, proposed their own resolutions, voted on them, passed them, and even communicated with spirit fingers as the meeting went on. The only difference: All of that day's protesters were there for the first time -- and are in fifth and sixth grade.
In the past month and a half, Denver's Logan School for Creative Learning has taken 46 students to the local chapter of the national movement as a field trip devoted to the politics of protesting. The idea originally began as a hands-on experience for the school's advanced students, including seventh- and eighth-graders focused on a particularly relevant theme for this academic and political year: how to save the world.
"It's a huge theme that can be translated in a large number of ways," says Elizabeth Wroe, an environmental education teacher and the school's field trip coordinator. "So our goal is to let the kids actually experience some of the ways that could be happening locally.
"We let them make up their own minds, though: After the field trip, we had a discussion about why people might oppose this way of making change as well as why it might be successful."
That first trip lasted an hour, during which students asked a small handful of protesters about their motivations, goals and processes. The day also included trips to Colorado Open Lands and S.A.M.E. (So All May Eat) Cafe.
All parents at Logan have the option to keep their children from going on a field trip, but none prohibited their students from visiting Occupy Denver. However, some asked questions, particularly in preparation for the second trip the school's intermediate students took on December 14. "They asked, 'Why are you doing this?'" Wroe says. "'What do you think the students will learn from going there?' I think the main thing was that parents really wanted us to present both sides of the argument."
To address this concern, Wroe and other teachers facilitated discussion that included both the positive and negative aspects of the Occupy movement, which comes up often when the students lead arguments about current events. After the older students took the school's first trip to Civic Center Park, the grade levels below became interested in a repeat trip of their own.
"We really support the students in thinking on their own, and we had a lot of different arguments," Wroe says. "We had kids arguing against it, and others arguing in support of it. The older students had a more complex discussion, but it was interesting to see all of the students take sides and form their own opinions about that style of political activism."
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Although she hadn't experienced the occupation herself before the students did as a group, Wroe says the trips went "much better than I expected they would" and were flawless with a single exception: One man shouted at the first group. Still, Wroe is not entirely sure the speaker was an occupier.
Students "were surprised by how articulate the people who spoke with us were," Wroe adds. "I don't know if their parents of friends or the media told them that people down there had no idea what they were doing, but they were surprised by how articulate and informative it was. Regardless of what perspective they took away on the movement, that was a nice surprise."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: What local artifacts would make it into museums and history books?"