School Talk

Let’s Not Pretend The BPS Walk Out Wasn’t Driven By Adults

Students and Organizers on Boston Common

Almost everyone can get behind a student protest that unfolds organically and highlights what true student activism can achieve. But when approximately 3,500 students walked out of Boston Public Schools and headed to Boston Common to protest the school budget and the lifting of the charter cap, it was a very public example of agenda driven adults manipulating kids. (While numbers remain uncertain, local outlets put the number of students who attended the event somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000. It is not clear where the other 1,500 or so students who walked out spent their day.)

Despite claims that Monday’s walkout was student driven from the beginning, that is simply not the case. The walkout was organized by two organizations that are partners of the American Federation of Teachers and The National Education Association. Massachusetts Alliance for Educational Justice and Boston Alliance for Educational Justice spearheaded the plan and then a small group of Boston Public School parents took to Twitter over the weekend to convince thousands of other people’s children that they should walk out of school.

They rail against the school system and the Mayor of Boston claiming that they don’t care about BPS students. They falsely lay the blame for the system’s woes at the feet of charter schools and use events like today’s Walk Out as opportunities to rally students against charter schools.

I hate Teach for America and Charter schools equally and here’s a current of why #bpswalkout

— Tory Russell (@VanguardTNT) March 7, 2016

It is an undeniable truth that student voice is an integral part of the local, state, and national education conversation. Their lens is in many ways the most important one because they are the customers sitting in the seats every day, the ones most directly impacted by the decisions made by education leaders.

But this event wasn’t the brainchild of students no matter how many times labor loyalists and union backed pols say it was. It was part of an organized strategy to have students walk out of school and hijack the dialogue with misinformation. The kids have every right to be frustrated and even angry based on what they’ve been hearing, but there is little to no evidence that what they’re being told is even true. Arming students with accurate information so that they may think critically and draw conclusions is a responsible way to support and promote student activism; sharing falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and flat out inaccuracies with students in order to further a national agenda is manipulation.

Let’s be crystal clear. There are plenty of Boston Public School students who are informed about the budget and who have been vocal for months in protest of the proposed cuts. Boston Community Leadership Academy students have attended and spoken at school committee meetings about their outrage over the loss of programs at their school.  But their advocacy is a far cry from what took place Monday during school hours.

Putting aside the total ‘ick factor’ of union aligned groups pushing a national agenda by convincing kids to walk out of school, there is an even more important concern that has to be front and center when thousands of students ignore a school directive and decide to leave their respective campuses: Student Safety.

Angry parents spent the weekend on Twitter convincing students from all over Boston to leave school and head to The Boston Common with zero regard for who’d be responsible for them and what would happen if, God forbid, something were to happen to one of them at a time that they were supposed to be in the care of the Boston Public Schools.

Would those who know better still keep saying the whole thing was student driven if a student had been struck by a car on the trek to the Boston Common? Or would the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools step in and admit that this event was one piece of a national and organized strategy sweeping across more than thirty American cities including New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.

The following is taken word for word from their website:

Storming in Boston! Support the ThunderclapIt’s time to throw down for public education in MA and across the country. The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) and the Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) are building a mass mobilization for Monday, March 7 to #keepthecap on charter schools and to demand full funding for all students in Massachusetts. Actions include turn-out and testimony at the State House on Monday morning, a student walk-out across all Boston Public Schools, and a protest against planned budget cuts at a School Committee budget hearing that evening. More details on the March 7 event here. You can help amplify the work of our partners at MEJA/BEJA by joining their Thunderclap social media action – sign up here today!

If I were a Boston student being told by adults that my Mayor didn’t care about me or my schools, I’d be upset and want to speak up.

If I were a Boston student athlete being told by adults that my team was going to be be cut, I’d be upset and want to fight to save my team.

If I were a Boston student being told that charter schools were bad and were the reason I wouldn’t be able to get into the college of my dreams, I’d probably start to dislike charter schools, whether I knew what a charter school was or not.

Students should be meeting with BPS leadership. And they are. Superintendent Tommy Chang meets regularly with the Boston Student Advisory Council and in light of the recent turmoil around race, they’ve met more frequently.  

Students have every right to know what is happening with the school budget, to raise their voices in protest, and to be part of the conversation with educators, school leaders, and city leaders. But they also have every right to accurate and honest information that will not intentionally pit them against organizations and people that a bunch of grown ups see as the enemy.

Perhaps the only positive that comes out of 3,500 students missing school at the behest of big labor is that it provides an opportunity to consider more and better ways for student representatives to be part of the conversation.

But let’s respect them enough to tell them the truth about reductions in Title 1 funds and decreased state aid instead of feeding them a host of talking points that oversimplify and misconstrue a very complex issue.

We are the adults. Let’s start acting like it.

Note: This blog was updated to include language directly from the National Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools website.

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