The Teacher Who Taught His Students to Challenge the NRA on the Day They Lost 17 of Their Own

Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Foster

Just before Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma
González launched into her now-iconic 11-minute gun control
speech, she warned the crowd that it was going to be a long

“I know this looks like a lot, but these are my AP Gov notes,”
González said as she raised a stack of handwritten pages in the
air in front of
thousands of people
gathered at a vigil. It had been three
days since a former student killed 17 people at her Parkland,
FL, high school.

After she delivered her speech, González was so confident in
front of news cameras that conspiracy theorists quickly accused

her of being a crisis actor
. Critics questioned how a high
school senior could have such tight talking points. Rumors
spread on YouTube and Twitter that the Stoneman Douglas
students like her who were making repeat appearances on cable
news networks were actually 30-year-old pawns of gun-control
advocates. Others, like,
CNN anchor Dana Bash
, praised the students for their
“amazing ability to have presence of mind and to be able to
speak truth to power in a way that a lot of adults can’t do.”

But it turns out the Stoneman Douglas students being
scrutinized are just teens with really good teachers at a
school with resources. They are a testament to what public
schools can produce if students have support at home and in
well-funded schools.

Many of the high-profile Stoneman Douglas seniors are in the
same AP United States Government and Politics program this
year, helmed by Jeff Foster, who helped create the AP
government curriculum for the entire Broward County Public
Schools system.

Foster is going on 20 years teaching AP government classes. He
worked in finance for a few years before his mother suggested
he try substitute teaching. He fell in love with it and went on
to get his masters in education.

All but one of his years teaching have been at Stoneman
Douglas. As far back as 2005, students have been calling him
patron saint of every senior class
.” He laughs when he says
he is still getting paid like a fourth-year teacher. He does
his telephone interview with Splinter from bed: He says he’s
gotten just a few hours of sleep every night since the

He’s been busy. When Foster goes back to school he’s going to
also start teaching geography. Like his other colleagues,
Foster has volunteered to absorb a period left behind by a
teacher who was killed.

But also, since the “massacre,” as he calls it, he’s been
waking up in the middle of the night sweating.

“I sleep an hour, wake up and sleep another hour,” Foster says.
He says he usually remembers his dreams, but hasn’t remembered
any lately. He thinks it’s because he just hasn’t been able to
get deep enough sleep.

AP Government student Dimitri Hoth

On the day of the shooting, Foster taught the AP Gov students
about special interest groups, like the NAACP, American Medical
Association, and the National Rifle Association. His lesson
plan that day included a discussion about the Columbine and
Sandy Hook school shootings, with emphasis on how every
politician comes out afterward a tragedy to say the right thing
about changing gun regulation. The students learned how the NRA
goes to work as soon news reporters and the public move on to
the next story.

“That’s not the NRA’s fault, that’s our fault,” Foster says.
“We lose attention and that’s why interest groups run the
country. If it’s not the NRA then it’s another group.”

Foster teaches AP Government all day: It’s the only subject he
teaches. He had taught this particular special interest lesson
four times by the time the gunman started shooting.

The following day the students were scheduled to have a test on
the special interest chapter. The exam was supposed to include
a free response question asking students what techniques the
NRA used to be successful. The students were supposed to
discuss how the NRA used mass mobilization, campaign
contributions, and litigation to push their agenda forward.

Stoneman Douglas Senior Aly Sheehy

“I love [teaching government] because it’s alive, stuff is
happening,” Foster says.

Emma González had already taken Foster’s lesson by the time the
shooting happened. So did fellow student David Hogg, who has
made multiple appearance on cable news networks, inspiring

crisis actor conspiracies on YouTube
in the days after the

Jeffrey Foster heading to the CNN town hall with
students.Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Foster

These students are clear-eyed, media-ready, and sophisticated,
often rejecting the premise of interview questions or entirely
reframing them. Foster says it’s not surprising to him which
kids are getting repeated interview requests and continue to
speak publicly. He’s seen these same students shine in his
classroom debating controversial issues like gun control,
abortion, and Colin Kaepernick. Foster says he stirs the
discussion to both sides. When students don’t bring up
counter-arguments, he brings them up himself.

The students come from families that have resources and “for
lack of a better word, power,” according to Foster. Parents
have high education levels.

“It’s unfortunate not all schools are funded the way we are. We
have a lot of resources at our school,” Foster says.

Only about 24 percent of the students at Stoneman Douglas are
considered economically disadvantaged, according to data from
Florida Department of Education
. Other high schools in the
district have student bodies made of up to 89 percent of
economically disadvantaged students. In the 2012-2013 academic
year Stoneman Douglas graduated 94 percent of students,
compared to the district’s 75.3 percent graduation rate that
same time period, according to the state department data.

Stoneman Douglas opened its doors in 1991 to serve the suburban
community of Parkland and parts of the city of Coral Springs.
It’s the type of school that
teachers from other schools want to work at
. Stoneman
Douglas also has a massive AP Government program, which Foster
runs. About 327 students take AP government—that’s about 40
percent of the senior class. It’s a high-achieving school,
especially for a public school. In the 2013 school year they
had 19 AP college-level courses.

“There’s nothing I don’t enjoy [about teaching government],”
says Mr. Foster. “I helped write the curriculum for the county.
I’ve done everything I can.”

AP Government student Delaney Tarr

In the days after the massacre, Foster helped organize a field
trip of about 100 students to Tallahassee to meet with
legislators. Some students took chartered buses; others made
the seven-hour trek in Foster’s minivan. When the students
weren’t preparing talking points, they were singing along to
the Hamilton soundtrack and Ed Sheeran. (The latter
was Foster’s choice.)

Some critics and conspiracy theorists have accused Foster of
pushing the Communist Manifesto. But Foster is no Communist.
He’s not even a bleeding-heart Bernie bro. He’s a registered
Republican who voted for Hillary Clinton.

And whereas David Hogg has stopped checking his email because
of death threats, Foster still replies to some of his critics.
He says he writes back with good taste and tells people they
know nothing about him. He responds to hate mail by saying
things like, “I’m just trying to comfort this group of kids
that just went through an awful tragedy.”

But, Foster says, what he really wants to write back is: Fuck
you, fuck you, fuck you.

“For anyone to be critical of the kids for something they’ve
said or done is unimaginable to me. If they haven’t broken any
laws then it’s the American way to protest,” he says.

Foster thinks the students are running on adrenaline. He wants
to prepare his students to be emotionally ready for when and if
the media attention goes away. And he hopes the students can
continue to stay positive and not crash or move into
depression. He wants his students to leave class and vote, run
for office, or join a special interest group for an issue they
care about.

“You can’t bitch,” he tells his students, “if you don’t

You may also like...

Lasă un răspuns

Adresa ta de email nu va fi publicată. Câmpurile obligatorii sunt marcate cu *