My children are on Spring Break this week.
They did not have to make the choice whether to walkout or not. They do, however, have to make the choice whether to walk up or not on a regular basis.
There has been much discussion around this topic, with pictures and memes being shared on both sides of the issue. Quick jabs meant to make a point and run. But this issue is complex, it runs deep, it cannot be reduced to a sarcastically worded meme.
If my children, elementary school, middle school, or high school had chosen to stay at their desk I would have supported their decision. At my core, I am a rule-follower. I always have been. If the sign says to walk, then you walk. That is all there is to it.
As an adult, I do love a well-placed revolution though. Maybe it is all of the dystopian YA novels that I read, but I do support the idea of standing up for your beliefs. I have had to a few times, and it is terrifying.
If my children, elementary school, middle school, or high school had chosen to walk out, I would fully support that decision as well. The conversation needs to involve making certain that child is not following the crowd, or trying to be trendy, but understands the meaning and reason.
This generation, Generation Z, is not a group of spoiled kids. They are a young people who are tired of the way the system works and are looking for ways to change it.
In 1913, women suffragettes marched in parades and were criticized that they could not change anything. On August 18, 1920, the amendment was ratified and women all over the country had the right to vote. (There is still much work to be done in the area of equality, as we know, but there was a start.)
In the early 60’s black and white Americans came to together in the name of civil rights and marched all over the country. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an official end to segregation of public spaces and addressed employment discrimination as it had never been addressed before. (Yes, it still exists, and there is much to do still, but again, it started somewhere.)
These students are not asking to change the entire world. They are asking that private companies, private industry, and special interest groups not have a say in lawmaking for this country. They have that right. Whether you agree with the movement or not, they have that right.
Exercising their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is simply one of the most American things they could be doing.
Looking back at yesterday, I read reports of one school where the walkout turned into a violent clash with local law enforcement. That is a different issue, but I have read dozens upon dozens where the walkout was successful, peaceful, reflective, and solemn. It is important for our youth to feel that they have a voice, that they are valued.
Somewhere along the way, someone introduced the idea to walk-up to kids who may be marginalized instead of walking out of class. This is a great idea.
Students (and teachers/staff) being aware of the students who may be falling through the cracks is a positive step in the right direction. Bullying in the school system is out of control, and any steps taken to lessen it across the board is needed.
However, there is a danger in this philosophy. When laid out simply, it looks a whole lot like victim blaming. “Did you talk to him when he was sitting alone?” sounds an awful lot like, “What were you wearing when he attacked you? Did you flirt with him earlier in the night?”
Students CANNOT be held responsible for the mental health of those around them. Yes, kindness is paramount. Not being an asshole is of utmost importance. But we cannot place blame at the feet of our youth.
What they are being told through this movement is that IF something horrific does happen at their school, it is somehow their fault. This is simply not true.
Some people sit alone because they choose to. Some people who sit alone would love to have company.
Our youth need to be able to approach each other, have that conversation, and be kind to each other. They need to be taught that if something seems off, to tell someone. Then those adults in charge must DO SOMETHING. Whether that be setting up parent meetings, counseling, outside consultations, whatever it takes. Comments from students to administration CANNOT be ignored or swept under the rug. It is too important.
The burden of mental health of our youth falls on us, all of us, the adults of society. Not on the youth. That is too great a burden for them to carry.
The walkout helped a generation to feel like they have a voice. The walk up will help an entire portion of society feel that they are valued. Both are equally important, and not at all at odds.
If your child walked out yesterday, make sure they walk up today and every day after.
They can make changes that will affect their schools, towns, states, this country, and this world for the next generation.