On Wednesday, thousands of students across America walked out of their classrooms in protest. Some acting with the sanction of their districts, some without, they abandoned classrooms at 10:00 AM and gathered for 17 minutes to recognize the 17 people killed in the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The protests are meant to speak out against the lack of legislative action to curb gun violence. These students interrupted the flow of the school day, caused logistical and safety concerns, and in some cases defied the direct commands of superintendents who told them not to protest.

Good for them. America’s future seems brighter with these young people as the next wave of voters and leaders.

I am a middle school teacher, and am fortunate that my district not only permitted students to protest, but helped them organize it. The town police were there, administrators, board members, and nearly all teachers from the middle and high schools. As a district, we spoke with unity. But many more students in other places were ordered not to protest and were threatened with suspension if they did. This is horribly oppressive and, frankly, backwards and foolish. It is a gesture doomed to make the district look bad. The protests were nonviolent and highly organized. If Americans cannot protest like that, tell me, what is a better way?

Judging from some of the vile things I’ve read online, the public’s objections come down to two things:

  1. These kids are being used as pawns of the left to push an anti-gun agenda.
  2. These kids should shut their mouths and get back to class.

Okay. First of all, the students in Florida who began the movement were working independently. Outraged that a mentally ill gunman had easily bought weapons legally, they united to stop this from ever happening again. They aren’t pawns; they’re freaking knights, leaping over the less nimble pieces and charging into the fray that they very much have a stake in.

And the “get back to class” cry? Tell me, what should they be doing in class instead? Reading a textbook? Taking notes in civics class about different forms of civic engagement? Folks, it doesn’t get more engaged that this. Participating in an actual protest about an issue they care about is a learning experience far surpassing anything they’ll learn behind a desk.

Time will tell if this protest will incite the changes our country and our schools need. These students are not going away quietly. Enough is enough, and I think if this past week is any sign, our future will be in good hands.

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