The Art of Youth Activism

By Nova S., Trent Child & Youth Studies Intern

Society consistently underestimates, undermines, ignores, brushes off, and otherwise condescends its youth. Sadly, in general, we assume that youth are up to no good, inexperienced, unwise, uneducated, rash, brash, and trashed. Of course, this can’t be entirely true, especially given the examples of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, youth activists who are practically household names. 

However, they are far from the only ones.

Youth consistently engage themselves in their communities and issues that matter to them, and of course that applies here in Oshawa as well. Over several years, students of different ages have organized multiple protests regarding education.

Colour image of a red brick building and to its right, a large glass greenhouse
The greenhouse at G.L. Roberts Collegiate, August 13, 2011 (A016.10.166, Dowsley collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The first example I want to address was in 2012, when Bill-115, the Putting Students First Act, passed. Despite its name, clearly many students disagreed with the act, as about 50 of them walked out of G. L. Roberts high school one brisk December day. Said act would freeze teachers’ wages for two years, decrease their sick days, and prevent them from going on strike. It also included budget cuts to programs like music and sports, as well as extracurricular activities. Despite the possible threat of suspension, the protest was student-organized and led, with parent facilitation. 

O'Neill high school in 2016; three storey brick building with large trees at the right of the image
O’Neill CVI, January 7, 2016 (A016.10.179, Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The next example is from 2015. After a five-week strike, teachers were forced back to work – but roughly 140 students between two Oshawa high schools, G. L. Roberts and O’Neill Collegiate, protested in support. Again, the protest was student-organized and led. Many expressed gratefulness to be back in education but concerns about the lack of resolution and the sudden, condensed workload, as well as the threat of ever-increasing class sizes and the likelihood of being treated like numbers rather than individuals.

My final example is from 2019, when 50 students from Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School protested proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program which included cuts to the autism program and low income tuition assistance and the banning of cellphones in classrooms, among other things. Students from Adelaide McLaughlin Public School and R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute also protested, all student-organized and led. 

In the above examples, students collaborated through social media and in a refusal to take their protests out of the public eye in order to take a stand for themselves – their values, disabilities, beliefs, and rights. Teachers and caregivers supported them to help strengthen their youth’s voices.

Education and its policies are just a sliver of the issues in which youth voices are typically cut out, ignored, and forgotten. Instead of disempowering our youth and restricting their voices, we should be empowering them and giving them megaphones, sometimes literally! They are powerful individuals who have important and relevant values, opinions, experiences, and viewpoints right now, just as they are.

Oshawa Museum’s children and youth programs have always aimed to be engaging and inclusive in order to help kids find something that may spark a passion in them, right here in their own communities, from archaeology, history, fashion, social issues, geography, recycling, and more. As a youth myself, I’ve seen and experienced the desire Oshawa Museum has to let youth speak, lead, and create.


Citations

https://oshawaexpress.ca/oshawa-students-walkout-to-protest-education-cuts/

https://www.toronto.com/community-story/3476741-oshawa-high-school-students-protest-bill-115/

https://www.mykawartha.com/news-story/5646470-update-oshawa-students-at-o-neill-collegiate-and-gl-roberts-protest-in-support-of-teachers/

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