You may have heard that some students and teachers are planning a walkout from school on March 24th (the anniversary of Columbine) which will last for seventeen minutes in honor of the seventeen students killed in Florida recently. And then there’s the case of some of the more hardcore activist students who claim they will not be returning to school at all until gun control legislation is passed. Can you spot the difference between these two plans?
Whether you agree with their goal or their motives or not, the first group is engaging in a well-organized protest, frequently involving the school administration and teaching staff, designed to make their voices heard. It’s of a reasonable length, doesn’t involve any destruction and won’t cause too much of a disruption to the school day. It will also, no doubt, attract tons of media attention.
The second plan is entirely different. Simply walking out on what is effectively “your job” at that age for what could easily turn into months or years (given the way Congress works) is just shooting yourself in the foot. In today’s edition of the Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty of the National Review takes a less than kind look at this sort of self-defeating boycott and finds it lacking.
I wish I’d thought of that for every time I cut classes. “I’m not being lazy; I’m just making a bold and principled stand by refusing to do that thing I’m supposed to do.” Maybe I can refuse to clean out the gutters until we’ve wiped out the Taliban.
We can always find a good reason to be outraged about some injustice in the world, and we can always point to that injustice as to why we can no longer go about our daily routine. Never mind that attending school and getting an education is the process that’s supposed to equip us with the tools we need to bring about the changes that we want to see in the world.
We won’t go to class until Congress passes gun control; after that, we won’t go to class until they’ve solved homelessness. There’s always a good cause to stand for or something to protest. Under this philosophy, we will never have to actually show up and, you know, do what everybody else expects us to do.
When I was in middle school (I forget now whether it was seventh or eighth grade), a very popular teacher was fired. I’m not sure if we even knew why. But that very same day the word went round at lunchtime that some of our student council leaders were organizing something drastic. There would be a walkout following the next period’s classes after lunch. Demands would be made. Someone would go to the pay phone (we still had them in the 70s) and call the local newspaper. Our voices would be heard.
Right on schedule, everyone left their next class when the bell rang and rather than proceeding to the next scheduled lesson, almost all of the students walked out of the school, crossed the street to the basketball court and recreation area and sat down. For a little while nothing happened. No reporters ever showed up. Then the principal came out with a bullhorn and explained that they had heard our message, but the decision was made and everyone was to return to class.
One of the female teachers with some seniority (and apparently a history of being a hippie) came out and praised the students for their activism, but told us that we would still need to return to class and we could discuss the firing.
That’s when our social studies teacher came out. He was a great bear of a man who was also the coach for most of the boys sports teams. Without any praise or promises, he announced that if his sixth-period class wasn’t full in the next five minutes we are all off of the sports teams (for the year), the seasons would be canceled and, just for good measure, he was going to start “kicking some asses.”
Nearly all of us boys got up and went inside. The man wasn’t kidding and many of us had been on the receiving end of such ass-kickings in the past. (You could do that back then. And if it happened to me, when I got home my dad would give me more of the same and not criticize the teacher at all.) With the boys gone, the girls got up and went inside also. The fired teacher never came back. But we all managed to move on without a black mark on our scholastic records and the lion’s share of us graduated.
Is there a lesson there for you? I’m not sure. But I just know things worked differently back when I was growing up and we seemed to turn out okay, with the exception of a few ne’er do wells who went on to waste their lives in pursuit of careers as political pundits.