They've been marching, shouting and demanding to be heard - it's only the school uniforms that mark them out as a new kind of political protester. In a week of unprecedented action, the tactics employed by tens of thousands of schoolchildren have taken the older (and supposedly wiser) of us aback. From the 1,000 pupils who staged a demonstration in their school grounds at St Dunstan's, Glastonbury, to the 300 ambitious 12- to 15-year-olds who attempted to occupy Edinburgh Castle, teenagers are not waiting for anyone to tell them what to do.
When the government launched the citizenship curriculum last September, encouraging all pupils to become "active citizens", it's unlikely that what they had in mind was thousands of young people walking out of lessons in Devon, blocking Parliament Square and thronging the streets of Manchester chanting "not in our name".
And they have more claim than most to the slogan. For years, the cry of the politically aware teenager has been that nobody is listening to them. Without a vote, their voices were just a chirruping in the background. But now the same complaint is chiming with adults, angered by a decision to go to war that flies in the face of public opinion. We are all disenfranchised now.
So where has it come from, this new engagement? Discussions at home have no doubt played their part, but if teenagers were so keen to adopt their parents' concerns, playgrounds across the land would be full of the latest gripes over house prices. Fourteen-year-old Jacob Hunt was out voicing his opposition to war long before his dad, Lord Hunt, decided to stand down from the government. Might Hunt junior have helped his father along?
Of course, the influence of anti-war celebrities, such as Ms Dynamite, has upped the cool factor. And youth's strong, absolute sense of right and wrong - where does that go? - has bolstered their horror at the bombing of their counterparts in Iraq. How clear does it seem to young people that the quid pro quo for the flaming buildings they see on the nightly news should be an attack on their country?
So, a heady mix of fear, outrage and compassion - and unprecedented access to the debates that for months have been the oxygen of TV and newspapers - has fueled the determination of teenagers to get out there and do something. Not so different, after all, from the motivations of their older fellow marchers. Not so different, either, from the thousands of young people around the world kicking back their chairs. "I reserve my right to be idealistic," said one 15-year-old in Pittsburgh; she and tens of thousands of US schoolchildren skipped school to demonstrate for "books not bombs". Pupils in Switzerland walked out of school, carrying rainbow flags for peace, followed by their classmates in Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia. Nobody cared about fractions this week.
Threats to daub British pupils with the black mark of truancy were cushioned with reassurances that there was plenty of opportunity to discuss war and peace in the classroom. But it's gone beyond that now - kids believe they have a right to be heard by more than just their teachers and their year 10 citizenship groups.
Why are we so surprised when children show an awareness of life outside the school gates? Pupil protests in the 1970s tended to concentrate on schooling issues, but pupil insurrection is not always inward-looking. In 1911 a reported one million children were involved in 60 "sympathy strikes" during a period of industrial unrest. In the past, as now, schoolchildren have allied themselves to real events going on in the adult world around them, staking their claim to be part of it.
The media-savvy teenagers of 2003 have even less respect for any notion that there are limits to their involvement in the real world. Hundreds of pupils were prompted by text message to walk out of school. Many more had been primed by email and through campaigning websites: such as the Ealing Youth Stop the War Coalition ("aiming to build resistance in all Ealing schools"); Hereford Students ("prepared to protest/take civil disobedience against war"); Kres, the Cornish Voice ("we need to keep the world peaceful; if not, it will be on our heads"). Constantly told that they are the leaders and decision-makers of the future, who can blame them - given the chaos they see around them today - for trying to bring that day forward a little?
Claire Phipps is deputy editor of Education Guardian.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003