Students (and teachers) are walking out of school over the country today and it’s an understatement to say that parents and the country at large are not of one mind on how schools should handle this student activism. Some of us believe that civil disobedience requires “disobedience” and that freedom from consequences flies directly in the face of the very meaning of protest. Others think students should be encouraged to walk out and that schools encourage—and even sanction—it. And still others are concerned about too many students having no idea why they are even being encouraged to walk out of class.
Now, that students know there is no penalty for leaving class, I believe there will be a mass exodus today. They’ll walk outside not because they understand the protest, but because teachers like me brought it to their attention or because of the relentless media coverage.
Is this real student activism? Switching from my teacher role to my parent role, I wonder if schools are playing into the misunderstanding of student activism. I live in Washington Township and Sunday evening parents received guidelines for what they would permit at the high school, middle, and elementary level. My twin sons are in first grade. Other elementary parents and I were surprised there was even an elementary option. One parent told me, “They don’t need a walk in instead of a walkout; they need stay in class.”
From a parent’s perspective, I fully support a protest to stop school shootings during school hours. Protests are designed to draw attention to an issue and what better place to bring attention to gun violence in school than at the school itself.
Since we are in a world where we have to set aside time during the school day to teach our children how to stay safe in the event of a school shooting, our schools should set aside time for our children to let their voices be heard during the school day.
Tanzi West Barbour of Washington DC didn’t just write about the student walk outs. She participated in them with her own at son at a walk out prayer service at St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, D.C. and provides a personal account of what that experience was like.
I was happy to be there to share this moment with him. To pray together and show our activism together. But as a parent, my heart was bleeding for the lost lives of children. For all of the grieving parents who have been forced to bury their children due to senseless violence. I understand the need for answers. I understand the need for activism. I understand the need for a march or some sort of symbol of solidarity. I understand finding the strength to speak up when something isn’t right. I understand it all. And I’m right there with you.
I (Erika Sanzi) wrote a piece for Education Post about the walk-outs with a focus on the need for consequences because protest and civil disobedience are defined by sacrifice. I also raise the concern about schools supporting only certain kinds of political speech and the precedent it sets for potential student activism around issues that are far less popular with district leaders and the greater community.
If you are a Mom who has weighed in on the school walk-outs and would like to have your piece added here, tweet it at me at @esanzi or share it as a comment here.