A Teacher’s View of Student Walkouts


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

South Park warmed my heart to the free market. In one episode called “Gnomes”, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone eviscerate those who hate corporations without reason and cast a vision for the good large companies can do. Since then, I’ve had a general appreciation for what the market can offer. Once again, that same episode has me reconsidering a societal issue.

I teach at a middle school. After the Parkland shootings, many middle and high school students across the country chose to walk out of their classrooms on March 14th, in protest of lax gun laws. Some of my students chose to as well. We as teachers were instructed to avoid the topic so as to neither give our opinions, thereby unfairly influencing students, nor encouraging the inevitable disruption to the classroom.

When they returned, I overheard an enlightening conversation. One student who remained in the classroom asked a student who chose to walk out what the protest was all about. The latter responded “I dunno. I guess there was some shooting or something in Florida, I guess.” That ended the exchange. There are a few avenues of discussion that could be pursued from this exchange.

Hearing this story, it would be easy to blame teachers for my student’s lack of knowledge about the issue. However, a middle school classroom is not the place for such heated and controversial discussions. I’m a literacy teacher to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders; it would be irresponsible to broach such emotional topics without parent consent or counselor support.

Instead, I want to consider the veracity and morality of student protest. In “Gnomes,” the boys in South Park are tasked with creating a presentation in protest to an invading corporation. With an innocent ignorance of the issue, which an elementary schooler rightly has, the boys are at a loss for what to say, and in place of their own words a local father scripts a speech for them to give. The children are glorified as town heroes for their eloquence and bravery in the face of an evil corporation.

While renowned for its potty humor, South Park is not too far off point here. In my training to be an educator, I had to attend a week long seminar through the YWCA to learn about social justice. Some aspects were worthwhile, but one belief at the core of the classes was that teachers are to turn their kids into activists. We were given activities, units, and structures to help our students become progressive advocates; this was the goal of an effective teacher in their mind. What the seminar promoted was not far short of a cartoonish father handing students a pre-rendered speech.

With the Parkland shooting and ensuing protests, some of those students may have been entirely self motivated and free from an underlying adult agenda. Emma Gonzalez, perhaps the most notable of the Parkland activists, seems like a student who was motivated to promote gun laws far before her school underwent a tragedy.

However, I question many of the rest. How many of the students have stood up only because their peers have? How many teachers are not keeping politically neutral in their classroom? How many students have only continued in their emotional appeals, because the media attention makes them feel good? How many students have joined these protests with little knowledge of the issues, like my own students, and thereby become and unwitting prop in a far larger movement?

In answer to these questions I have little to say, but I’m wary to give my blind encouragement to students simply because they are speaking out. We as adults should be challenging these students to question their own beliefs and temper their youthful whims; not encouraging their every adolescent passion, even if the cause seems good.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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