Inspired by the nationwide walk outs last week, I wrote up a post about student activism, and the role I feel teachers should play in relation to that. This past weekend saw that activism expand massively, in the form of the “March for Our Lives,” a series of over 800 individual protests around the country, calling for action to be taken in response to gun violence. As an aspiring teacher, and really just as a person, I was incredibly moved and inspired by all of the students who participated in the marches, many of whom chose to speak to the thousands in attendance, sharing their very personal and emotional stories.
My first instinct was outright praise for these students, and for good reason. They are brave, and determined, and intelligent. They are taking their personal tragedies — whether recent, as in the case of the Parkland students, or long-term and recurrent, in the case of other students whose neighborhoods are consistently unsafe –and trying to use them as an agent of change. And for that, they deserve our support.
Taking a Step Back
But upon some further reflection, I saw myself being a bit exclusionary. I was heaping (well-deserved) praise onto these students, but in doing so, I was subconsciously ignoring the students who didn’t speak, or rather have been unable to speak.
To their credit, the Parkland students at the spearhead of this movement have done a great job of recognizing, even in the aftermath of a horrible, traumatic experience, that they do hold a level of privilege. Some came right out and said as much; others were sure to help prop-up other voices, such as those for whom violence is more common (as I mentioned previously).
The rest of us should do our best to follow their lead, and also take time to think about those who we aren’t seeing on our TV’s or on Twitter. Many students, for one reason or another, were/are never given a platform. They may not have been supported in a way that made them feel like they had a voice, and were able to use it. There is an argument to be made that there are entire schools, entire cities, entire districts, where students are held back. Beyond that, there are those who may have had a platform, but lacked the confidence or skills to utilize them.
I want to stress again that my intention is not to take away from the Parkland students, or anyone else who got up on stage over the weekend. They deserve our support, and are doing great work. Rather, my goal is to take a step back and also appreciate the other students, to remember that part of an educator’s role is to help empower and support everyone in the hopes that, if they desire, they too have the agency and the resources to effect change.
Brave, capable, intelligent students are an important factor in my decision to become a teacher. But so too are those