March 14, 2018

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.

2 thoughts on “March 14, 2018”

  1. A friend has shared with me the memo sent to her by administrators at her child’s middle school (location specifics removed). This is so much better, and also shows that getting this right is not that hard.

    ———–

    We are aware that many students are planning to walk out of school on March 14th at 10am for 17 minutes as part of the #ENOUGH National School Walkout.

    We encourage students to critically analyze issues, to use their voice, to stand up for what they believe in, and to become change agents in their community and world. The tragedy of the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has highlighted that students can force meaningful dialogue in the gun control debate, even when many of the adults in positions of power are attempting to avoid the debate.

    We hope this walkout can be a key moment for students to discuss the issues and decide on their personal and collective course of action. They can weigh the personal costs of civil disobedience and decide if it is a risk that they wish to take. They can discuss and organize amongst themselves how to best spread the word of a student walkout and how to recruit others to their cause, should they choose to do so.

    As you may imagine, many staff members hold strong opinions on gun control and other political issues, but we feel we do our students a disservice if we simply tell them how to think and then organize actions for them.

    If students walkout, we ask that they adhere to the following guidelines for safety reasons:

    • Exit Through the Main Stairwell
    • Behave in a way the does not disrupt the educational process of students who remain in class, or of the younger students nearby
    • Remain in the courtyard or along the perimeter of the building – do not cross any roads
    • Return promptly to class at the end of the walkout

    (The School’s) Response:

    • Teachers will continue their class as scheduled for students who choose to stay in class
    • Teachers will take attendance before and after the walkout and alert school leadership to any students who have not returned
    • Teachers who are free to volunteer to provide supervision if they are not teaching
    • Administrators and support staff will supervise stairwells and perimeter
    • No disciplinary action besides a discussion with leaders around civil disobedience will be taken

    If you would like to volunteer to ensure safety or to add your voice, please contact us.

    If your child plans to take part in an event outside of school on the same day, we ask that you sign them out of school to participate.

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