Stop Telling Kids to Change the World

Parents, teachers, and President Obama like to remind children of their ability to “change the world”. Kids are definitely capable of leaving their mark on the world – for good or bad.  Young people are on a quest to understand the world and their place in it. On that journey, ambition and passion are powerful forces, but without meaning or a sense of purpose their efforts can be severely misguided. Passion feeds ambition, but it’s that sense of purpose that guides young people to make a positive impact on their world.



These young people changed the world….

– Anne Frank was 13 when she turned an autograph book into a diary and started writing what would become one of the most memorable primary sources of the 20th century.

– Louis Braille was 15 when he decided to create a system of communication for the blind.

– Willis Carrier was 20 when discovered how to maintain constant relative humidity. His patent for air conditioning was filed the following year.

– Sacagawea did not have access to Google Maps or any form of GPS when at age 16 she served as a guide for Lewis and Clark through the American West.

– Mary Shelley completed “Frankenstein” at 19, S.E Hinton published “The Outsiders” at 18, and Christopher Paolini finished his first draft of “Eragon” at 15.

– Michael Dell was 19 when he started his computer company, Bill Gates was 20 when he launched Microsoft, and Steve Jobs was 21 when cofounded Apple.

– The Little Rock Nine were the first students to challenge school segregation in the Deep South. The average student was 15.8 years old.



These young people changed the world too…

– Gavrilo Princip was 19 when he decided to leave his mark on history by assassinating a future world leader thus setting the stage for the First World War.

– Lee Harvey Oswald was 24 when (according to the Warren Report) he stuck his mail-order rifle out of a downtown Dallas window.

– Sirhan Sirhan was 24 when he ran into Robert Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

– The 9-11 hijackers commandeered four planes and left three thousand dead. The average hijacker was 24.6 years old.



These young people tried to change the world…

– Mehmet Ali Agca was 23 when he tried to kill the Pope.

– John Hinckley was 25 when he tried to impress Jodie Foster. However, Jim Brady got in the way.

– Arthur Bremer was 22 when he left a presidential candidate unable to walk.

– The Manson Family tried to incite a race war that would bring about the apocalypse. The average family member was 22 years old.

Don’t change the world… Make a positive contribution to it.

Teachers can awaken within students a desire for action. Children are curious creatures ready to discover and explore. But, passion to embrace the unknown can result in great success, tragic debacles, or misguided efforts. Teachers must lead students toward the realization of a meaningful approach to global interaction. This generation of youth is innovative and resourceful and they are connected like never before. Their journey of change could potentially last a lifetime.

Young people have produced meaningful change throughout history. They have organized protests, marches, and sit-ins, led democratic uprisings around the world, fought for revolutionary legislation, and brought aid to the world’s poor and oppressed. They have ideas and are willing to participate; they just need to find opportunities to turn their passion into action.

“We all have something to give. So if you know how to read, find someone who can’t. If you’ve got a hammer, find a nail. If you’re not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble—seek out someone who is.”

 – George H.W. Bush, State of the Union address (1991)

Kids need to be creative and they need teachers that inspire and encourage them to think outside the box. No organization or institution should be off limits.  The White House, Congress, the United Nations, and so much more are within their sphere of influence. Someone has to build clinics in third world countries, someone has to advocate for equal rights, someone has to campaign for government action – they can be that someone.

At age ten, Samantha Smith was concerned about the impending threat of nuclear war. It was 1982 and the Cold War seemed far from over. Samantha asked her mother about the Soviet Union’s intent on global war. When her mom could not provide an adequate answer, she decided to write a letter to the newly elected leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov and he replied. She was invited to experience life behind Eastern Europe’s Iron Curtain.  Samantha became a goodwill ambassador between two fiercely competitive nations and continued to participate in global peacemaking activities.

It all started with a letter.

Challenging young people to change the world can produce a variety of outcomes. Eliciting change involves passion and ambition, but requires a sense of purpose – purpose for their lives, their world, and their actions. If students are encouraged to explore their interests, they will find a way to empower their world. They will become agents of change ready to make positive contributions.

Thanks to the following articles for their inspiration:

Passion-Based Learning: An Interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach  – Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Twenty-Two Simple Ideas for Harnessing Creativity in the Elementary Classroom – Trisha Riche

Today’s Young People Will Make History, For Better or Worse – Terrence Moore


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2 responses to “Stop Telling Kids to Change the World

  1. This was an awesome read Sean, I can’t believe I only knew you from Twitter. I love your blog. Looking forward to reading more. I use that picture of Samantha Smith when I talk about student blogging.

    One more thing. How come there are no “share” buttons at the bottom of this post. As soon as I was done reading this I wanted to share it.

  2. Pingback: Improve the World | Making My Mark

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