So Now That You Walked Out What Has Changed
I write these personal thoughts. Obviously, these thoughts are impacted by my chosen vocation of professional education. Thousands of schools across the country had to navigate the waters of disruption this week. The National School Walkout Sponsored by the Women’s March was held on March 14th. Some schools embraced it, some condemned it, others tolerated it. According to https://www.womensmarch.com/enough-faq , part of the purpose of the event was to “refer to gun violence, we do not overlook the impact of police brutality and militarized policing, or see police in schools as a solution. We also recognize the United States has exported gun violence through imperialist foreign policy to destabilize other nations. We raise our voices for action against all these forms of gun violence.” Regardless after 10:17 a.m. on March 14th, what has changed?
The short answer is; NOTHING!
After the protest, the students walked back to class and resumed life. Something the 17 victims of Parkland cannot do. If we want to show respect for Parkland, if we want to make a change, we need to unify not divide. The protest did not embrace, the protest divided. Students were divided against students. What were the social repercussions of participation? What were the social repercussions of nonparticipation? School administration was put into a conundrum. How do they embrace a desire for students to be heard without disruption of the school day and without engaging in radical political behavior? The desire to show sympathy for Parkland and the desire for common sense change was prostituted by a radical political agenda. A 17 minute remembrance does not constitute a change in behavior. Since 10:17 a.m. on March 14th how many cyberattacks have occurred? How many social media warriors have taken to their text and post ill against another human being? How many of the protestors ignored the isolated troubled student sitting by themselves alone in the corner of the cafeteria? Imagine the despair of being totally alone amongst a crowd of hundreds.
If we want to stand with Parkland, if we have had enough perhaps Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina, one of the students killed in last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has the answer. He has proposed an alternative to the school walkouts being held around the country. “Instead of walking out of school in March 14, encourage students to walk up,” he posted on Twitter. “Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her. … Walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know them — you may be surprised at how much you have in common.”
Retired teacher, David Blair, writes; “Walking out of school is easy compared to what this letter will challenge you to do.” He adds; “First of all, put down your stupid phone. Look around you at your classmates. Do you see the kid over in the corner, alone? He could likely be our next shooter. He needs a friend. He needs you. Go and talk to him, befriend him. Chances are, he won’t be easy to like, but it’s mainly because no one has tried to like him. Ask him about him. Get to know him. He’s just like you in that respect; he wants someone to recognize him as a fellow human being but few people have ever given him the chance. You can.” Encouraging engagement over the long-term does more than 17 minutes of division. Blair correctly identifies that the students themselves are the answer when he writes: “Look past yourself and look past your phone and look into the eyes of a student who no one else sees. Meet the gaze of a fellow human being desperate to make contact with anyone, even just one person. You. If you really feel the need to walk, walk toward that person. Your new friendship can relieve the heartache of one person and in doing so, possibly prevent the unjustifiable heartache of hundreds of lives in the future. I know you. I trust you. You are the answer.”
The unfortunate reality is that the 17 minutes of division has not solved the problem. It was not a step in the right direction. It was easy to do a one-time act, stick it to the authority under the guise of protest, be utilized as a pawn of a radical political agenda and then return to class to re-establish adolescent higharchies of popularity and social status.
Another unfortunate reality is change takes time. Beyond laws, we are looking for societal behavior to change. We are asking student to engage, not disengage. We are asking students to engage the lonely and isolated.
I pray for peace. I pray for understanding. I pray for Parkland and all the victims of gun violence. I pray for common sense legislation based on compromise. I pray for the treatment of our mentally ill. I pray that our nation return to prayer to our Creator and not moments of silence. I pray that we take the time to go beyond the headlines and use our powers of intellect to analyze these complex issues that face our society. In conclusion, social media warriors get your thumbs ready! I am convinced that analysis and reflection will be rejected and replaced with electronic vitriol. Or maybe I’m wrong and we can think before we act. As Mahatma Ghandi said; “Be the change we want to see in the world.”
Mr. Len Rich is Superintendent of the Laurel School District and the Director of Lawrence County Career and Technical Center in New Castle, PA.