Commentary: Students who participated in walk out protest should be praised

High schools across the country failed their students last week when many administrators decided to punish, not praise, the students who walked out of the classroom to protest a lack of legislative action against gun violence.

After the Parkland high school shooting in Florida earlier this year, a powder keg erupted and students began organizing to demand change. 

Tens of thousands of students joined the rallies and marches last week, which served as an eye-opening precursor to a planned march in Washington, D.C., with sibling marches across the world. Organizers of “March For Our Lives” is expecting 500,000 people to converge on the capital area alone on Saturday, according to The Washington Post.

Students in last week’s walk outs are not disgraced or even discouraged by being disciplined ― they are proud. Many students see it as a badge of honor, according to the Chicago Tribune, as it is a way to prove they really care about their cause. 

They should be proud of being disciplined, because unlike their educators and their politicians, (their supposed role models), they are taking serious action to ensure they have the basic right to live freely and safely. 

It is in a high school classroom where most people learn about social contract theory. In a nutshell, the theory explains that governments can only hold legitimate power when they provide for the security and general welfare of its citizens, and its citizens should respect that power. The theory is a keystone in any healthy society and it was deliberately used when the U.S. was formed.

The government is not holding up its end of the deal. It has failed time and again to keep its youth safe from gun violence. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, more than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings, according to The New York Times.

High school students finally saw the hypocrisy. They sit in a classroom and learn about social contract theory, and then realize that that could be the last thing they ever learned because their government is not holding up its end of the deal. 

Some of Chicago’s school administrators handed out detentions to hundreds of students, but said they could serve the detentions by meeting with local legislatures to discuss their concerns in planned sessions. 

While that demonstrates the administrator’s desire to turn a punitive action into an educational one, it also belittles and undercuts the student’s movement.

Students are not leaving classrooms because they have too much homework or because standardized testing is frustrating them. They are leaving because they feel that their right to safety and to an education is not being taken seriously. Now their right to freely speak and assemble under the First Amendment is being downgraded into a classroom-environment civics lesson. 

Students do not need a civics lesson. If they did, they would not be participating in the largest student movement since the Vietnam War protests. What they need is for their parents, teachers, school officials and community leaders to say, “You are right. There is something terribly wrong in our society and we are going to help you fix it.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Slate.