Today across the country High School students will be walking out of school for seventeen minutes to honor and memorialize the seventeen people (14 students and 3 adults) killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting massacre. It is their way of showing solidarity with those whose lives were taken exactly one month ago. It is also their way of protesting against the inaction of our nation’s politicians to enact stricter gun regulations.
As often is the case in our country’s history even the most peaceful and civil form of protest is met with fierce objection and opposition. Some school faculty and administration have threatened to take severe disciplinary action against students who participate in the “National School Walkout”. Some teachers have threatened to fail any student who walks out of their class.
Once again, as we have seen all too recently in other cases, many do not grasp one of the primary functions of peaceful protest or act of civil disobedience. One of the primary functions they serve is to expose the core character of those in power in authority. Those in power and authority are given an opportunity to demonstrate whether they will listen or silence, whether they will apprehend or guide, whether they are tyrants or servants.
Disheartening is a good way to describe the response of some adults in the lead up to this day. Disagreeing with the goals of the movement is one thing. Demonizing students who simply do not want to see another mass shooting in any school is vile and abhorrent behavior, but it is not out of the norm. Most days of the year a popular pass time amongst many adults is shaming teenagers for being self-centered, always on their phones and tablets, obsessed with curating their social media image, addicted to video games, and generally lazy and apathetic towards anything that truly matters. Now that they actually want to do something that shows solidarity with others their pawns actors and just plain spoiled uninformed brats.
If nothing else watching the way many adults have responded so toxically to the idea of students participating in a peaceful civil protest has served as a reminder of why I worked with teenagers for (ironically) 17 years.
I have lost count of how many times I was declared a saint for working with teenagers. Most of the time I found it sad in what it said they thought about teenagers. So many people couldn’t imagine spending so much time investing in students. There are a number of reasons I did it and did it for that long. So many adults think so little of them. I wanted them to know they are loved and accepted as they are while facilitating a community of their peers and other adults where they could flourish and grow. It is the same gift I was given by adults who cared for me and my peers when I was a teenager. It is the gift that so many of my peers were not given, and the absence and void it left still shows in many of them as adults.
Don’t let the divisiveness of the gun debate distract you from the point that students just want to feel safe. Right now they don’t feel safe. School shootings is one thing. The steady barrage of insults, shaming, dehumanizing and general apathy they receive from adults, even when the gun debate has simmered down, needs to stop. A gunman can taking their life is one thing. Adults decimating their soul is another.