Education, News

Teacher: #NeverAgain student protesters don’t have “mush for brains”

Photo credit: Ryan Monroe

With students nationwide planning a march on Washington, D.C., Saturday to demand gun reforms, scrutiny of K-12 students’ activism following the Parkland shooting has been on the rise.

Just in time, a South Carolina teacher and regular columnist for The Charlotte Observer has offered a stirring defense of these students,  many of whom participated in walkouts last week as well.

From Kay McSpadden’s column:

A day after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, survivors found their voices. In addition to meeting the press with eloquence and poise, they created the Twitter hashtag #NeverAgain, began organizing a national rally to protest gun violence in schools, and created a GoFundMe page to raise money to support it.

In the five weeks since, the students have met with Florida legislators, visited with President Trump, canvassed students to register to vote, produced and posted videos critical of politicians beholden to the gun lobby, and clapped back at their critics who dismiss them. For this Saturday they’ve planned Walk for Our Lives, when thousands of young people take to the streets of Washington, DC, Charlotte and cities across the nation.

Those of us who work daily with teenagers aren’t surprised at their resilience and industry. My high school students need only a few hours to produce amazing videos, smart board presentations and printed handouts ready for their classmates when I give an assignment. They are careful researchers, fierce debaters, thoughtful listeners. After the school day is over, they text each other — and me — if they have questions about the literature we are discussing in class. They do not have, as one reader wrote to me recently, “mush for brains.”

Nor are they “being used as tools of the left-wing group to further their own agenda,” as South Carolina’s Governor, Henry McMaster said. Calling the walkouts last week “shameful,” the governor was scornful of student activists leading the charge into politicized territory that adults have been too cowed to enter.

For example, across the nation, thousands of students left their classrooms March 14 and spent 17 minutes praying, reading the names of the victims, carrying signs protesting gun violence, or sitting in silence before returning to class. Some districts treated the walkout as a disruption worthy of punishment and students were suspended, given afternoon detentions and even paddled.

Most school districts, however, recognized the students’ need to be heard and to feel that their voices — and their lives — matter and the walkout was treated as a peaceful expression of genuine concern, a living lesson in a functioning democracy. In my rural school district, where many of my seniors go hunting in the morning before their first block class, students who wanted to walk out went to the gym, listened to the chorus sing “I Choose Love, and ended by joining hands and singing “We are one; we are many different people yet the same. Each difference makes us stronger, each friendship is our gain,” the opening lines of our alma mater.

Those of us who work daily with teenagers also know that kids need time to be kids, and asking them to use their voices as advocates of school safety and reasonable gun reform is unfair. They should be getting on with the business of spring break and prom and studying for final exams. They should be finding their way back to a sense of normalcy.

But the students say they will never feel normal again.

Instead of slowing down and losing their focus, they are fired up. Instead of tiring of pushing against entrenched political inertia, they are fueled with the rage and fury of people who watched their friends and teachers die.

The march on Saturday, which includes a gathering at First Ward Park in Charlotte at 11 a.m., is a harbinger of more activism to come. This generation will continue to raise their voices to speak truth to power.

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