Google “National School Walkout” and peruse the results. You will find a variety of sympathy-inspiring headlines and pictures: students weeping, holding impassioned signs, begging anyone to listen, to place “children first,” to wake up and become reasonable about gun control. What could be more compelling than our nation’s children asking for—in some instances, demanding—such things?
We try to teach our teenagers that life is full of choices. We ask: What kind of person are you going to be today? How about for the rest of your life? Will your actions line up with your beliefs, despite resistance from your peers? Will you stand up for your beliefs, which are supposed to be rooted and grounded in some semblance of truth and reason?
We like to think we stand up for the underdog. We are willing, sometimes, to incur personal harm as we bow to greater standards than personal selfishness. And we defend our beliefs as best we can as we question others when we think they are wrong.
Parents of children in U.S. public schools have a grand opportunity to do all of that on Wednesday, the day designated as the National Student Walkout. Organized and paid for by the same people who gave us the Women’s March in January, the walkout is supposed to be a 17-minute long event (one minute for each victim in last month’s deadly shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida). It’s possible that hundreds of thousands of students across the country will leave their classrooms to march in solidarity for gun control.
The National Walkout, while being touted by some schools as simply a show of support for the Parkland shooting victims, is, in reality, an activist-driven rally that has heavy financial support from easily recognized names, including Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, and Michael Bloomberg. The goal is clear: “The walkout is a call to Congress to ‘pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship,’ according to Women’s March Youth EMPOWER organizers,” USA Today reports. Even the ACLU is claiming its rightful place in the event, with advice posted on its website assisting students whose school systems threaten punishment if they participate.
The purpose of education is to teach basic skills, to impart facts and ideas, to teach children to think critically—in short, to give the next generation the tools they need to live as good citizens in a self-governing republic. Judging from national standardized test scores, we’re doing a poor job of it. We are graduating children who cannot read, do not hold the basic skills to maintain a job, and who know next to nothing about how their country’s history or how it works. A quick search of YouTube provides gallows humor when interviewers request basic information from our young: When was the Civil War? From which country did America gain her independence? Who was our first president? Oh, who married Beyoncé (a question answered correctly 10/10 times)?
Last week, I called my kids’ high school and spoke with the principal. I wanted to know how the school intended to handle the walkout. “Safety is the most important aspect to the walkout,” he explained. “No child will be encouraged to walk outside the building. In fact, if they return, they will be subject to be searched.”
“Both sides of the gun-control issue will be explored,” he added.” “There is a group coming in to register seniors for voting, but I warned them to not present any politics whatsoever to the students, and to only stress their civic responsibility.”
And I found this in an email detailing the planned events of the day: “Our students have worked hard to create a message not in a moment of time, but throughout the week to both memorialize the Parkland High School community and provide an opportunity for students to express an activist voice.”
At first glance, those appear to be reasonable, well-calibrated assurances—fair and safety-minded, which I appreciate. And yet, why are we sacrificing important school time to teach our students to be activists without first providing them with the tools to think critically about the issues?
Gone are the days of public speaking and debate classes, where students learned thoughtfully to examine and answer both sides of a controversial issue. Instead, we are left with students locking arms in a hallway or a courtyard, wearing red shirts to commemorate the colors of Parkland, and being exposed to information disseminated from a group with such an obvious left bent that there is little hope of fairness.
This might sound frightfully naïve and hopelessly gullible, but it used to be widely recognized that our schools were to be places where information was imparted, critical thinking encouraged, the Socratic method would work its magic and would open young minds to greater avenues of thought.
Now what we have are extremist political groups licking their chops and vying for the chance to have at our students. They are, in effect, standing on the dead in order to reach young voters, chivvying their way through the doors of our schools, and cramming emotionalism down their throats. And we, too weak to protest, are letting it happen.
If our schools are to become bastions of activism, where do we draw the line? Are we content with the causes we personally celebrate usurping seat time? Can my students take a minute out of their day for every child aborted last year? Last week? Yesterday? Could your child walk out of a classroom in support of transgender rights? Could mine willfully negate educational time to leave the classroom to show alliance with PETA? With Antifa? With the League of Women Voters?
In short, will we force feed our children a diet of emotional energy and causes such that their egos can be stroked while their minds remain empty?
My children have decided to attend school on Wednesday. We have discussed many of the issues swirling around the Parkland shooting in great detail, and they understand the reasons for the walkout. As is our family custom, we have examined many different viewpoints and the ideologies behind them. My kids have informed their teachers they will be retaining their seats Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Photo credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images