After weeks of deliberation, meetings with students, and public hearings over what strategies the Springfield Public Schools would take on March 14th as students prepare for the National School Walkout, two memos were emailed to families who have kids at my daughter’s middle school in the past 24 hours. The first, from the schools superintendent, came on March 12; the second, from the middle school principal, came this morning.
In both memos, I fear school administrators have abdicated their responsibilities as educators. They’ve thrown their hands up in frustration in the face of student expressions of agency, and have shown limited empathy, imagination, and recognition of the weight of our moment. The schools have approached this moment as one to manage and to get through, rather than one for us all to learn from.
Both memos start with sympathy for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Both memos express appreciation for the desire of students to have a voice. Both memos note that schools:
will provide several options on March 14, 2018 for the students to express their views with a level of safety that we can feel confident in embracing. The auditorium will be available for students to express their sympathy, solidarity with the victims of the Parkland and other mass shootings, as well as their right to have safe and secure schools. The students organizing that effort will be providing information, including voter registration information for those of age to make their views known at the ballot box. Provisions are also in place for those already impacted and fearful, as well as those who choose not to participate in any way. As stated previously, this will be a regular school day and the “student code of conduct” will be operational as it always is and will be applied to those who choose to leave the building without authorization.
Both memos fail to acknowledge that at the heart of the national walk-out movement is the demand that Congress strengthen our gun laws. Neither memo includes the word “gun,” and do the disservice to our community of misrepresenting what young people across the nation will be demanding tomorrow. By asserting control over student actions, administrators are inviting chaos, diluting what impact these students might have on their communities and, most importantly, failing to value and honor the voices of the young people who have surged to the forefront of our political consciousness at this moment.
The memos reference “solidarity,” but their authors don’t seem to understand what that word means.
The educator Paulo Freire once wrote, “solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary; it is a radical posture… true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these ‘beings for another.'” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 31. (h/t to Thomas Nikundiwe for this quote)). It is not nearly sufficient to express grief and sorrow, or to send thoughts and prayers to those in Parkland. The young people around this nation who will stand up and walk out tomorrow sense this fundamental truth about our discourse, and are preparing to take risks to build the world in which they want to live.
Concerns about safety are legitimate and important, and we appreciate the difficult position administrators are in. But we never hear these concerns during football games. We never hear them during Field Days. We never hear them when students are dismissed at 2:30 and flood the streets of our town. In fact, students who are still considering walking out tomorrow have no idea what will be waiting for them, other than punishment under the school code of conduct. Will the doors be locked? Will police be present? Will press be allowed on school property? Will administrators block the exits? We don’t know.
Yes, it is the job of our schools to keep our kids safe. But it is equally important that the schools educate them. To effectively educate young people, the schools must hear young people, not prioritize controlling them.
I hope that as 10 am approaches tomorrow, Springfield’s school administrators will have their listening ears on.