Today marks a day of solidarity and national demonstrations by the youth of our nation. My school site organized 17 minutes to begin school with an on campus march as well as student speakers at lunch. Having been active in the past to support student organizing efforts on my former campuses, today felt strange. I admittedly stepped back from my usually comfortable role of helping to lead student organizing and was more of a spectator today, in particular for the morning walk around the field. I was encouraged to see young leaders from our middle school step up and lead chants and hold posters communicating the sentiment of “END VIOLENCE NOW. LESS TALK, MORE ACTION.” And while these messages resonate with me at my core, I am still building up parts of that core here identity here in my new community.
And it feels strange, to be this mucho on the sidelines. And it feels strange to not have as many students and teachers at least aware of the sides contextualizing this dire moment of national identity construction, let alone taking active stances on the issue. Part of it I know is the reality of middle school development. Teaching at this level again has reminded me of how young my students are, while simultaneously giving me hope and joy to see the childlike immaturity venturing away from raw innocence and ignorance… towards their unforeseen and undefined futures. And part of it is excepting that this is not South Central Los Angeles. I teach in an agricultural community and my identity as a social justice educator and activist has had to shift to meet this reality. And yet it still didn’t seem right, never does really, to jump back into “business as usual” to forward my curriculum. We don’t learn just by doing. We need to reflect on what we have done. And today, most of my students took a stand and walked out of their classrooms in solidarity with other young people… even if they didn’t fully understand the context of implications of their action.
That is where we teachers come in. Our job is to help students make sense of themselves and the world around them. Some would argue our job extends to the responsibility to show students that they have agency and that their actions can impact the world around them. What continues to be evident throughout history is that young people will do these things with or without our help… so why not support?
Today I did what little I could do to aid in this effort, accepting the fact that I know I could have done more; that I am used to doing more. But to do nothing but watch is unacceptable. To me. So instead of forcing my students to present their personal Tanka Poems to conclude our unit of study on Feudal Japan, we read articles from NEWSELA about the issues facing our youth and nation today. We read articles about youth leaders and their movements. And then we reflected on the morning’s action. Here are some of my students’ thoughts on this national day of action.
“i am honored to participate in today action it made me feel helpful.some concerned are the fact that they want armed teachers.I think that people that own guns should take classes about gun control .One question i have would be does trump think about the risks of an armed teacher.”
“I feel pretty proud of myself for participating in today’s action. Some Concerns I have as a student is not being safe with our gun laws and I feel very deep down sorry about the 17 students who came to school, thinking they were safe. I personally think we should have a stricter process when getting guns and increase mental health services since clearly that man who shot was ill. Who was the person that thought that it was right for EVERYONE to be able to get a firearm?”
“I feel good about participating in today’s action. My concerns as a student about gun violence and school safety is that they should stop selling guns to mentally ill people and schools should have more security.”“What I feel about today actions was supporting the 17 victims. One concern that I have about school safety is that they shouldn’t let people buy guns under 21 or under. I think what should be done about this sad problem that happened in Florida is that they should put fences around the school.”“I participated to show respect and love to the family members that lost their kids in the school shooting. Gun violence is not okay especially if teacher have guns in their classroom.”“I did not particpate on the event this morning because i have anxiety and i feel like i can’t breathe when am around people i don’t know. What conercers me is what is a kid or teacher uses the gun and kills people or themselves. i think more safety rules.”“why are people just having a big talk about this now. now that a big school shooting has happened , now you want to talk about that they want to change gun laws. This isn’t the first shooting that has happened this year. People have been talking about this and they just noticed. People have been killed, people have been injured, families have been ripped apart! But now people are thinking of giving teachers guns. What if teachers get mad at a student or the student is being disrespectful, how do we know the teacher wont pull out the gun and shoot, HOW DO WE KNOW that that wont happen???”“I feel good about participating in today’s action because we are honoring the 17 lives that were lost. I am very concerned about teachers being armed. What happens if a student makes a teacher mad?! The teacher could kill everyone in the room. If they do pass this law then I hope they make sure that the teachers are not mentally ill.”
“i don’t feel anything for what i had done today at school because how many times have their been a school shooting or just a regular shooting and we just don”t put much mind into it but i do not know why now when their have been countless times of shooting and we do nothing about it. Some concerns i have as a student is that what is someone tries to jump over the fence or go through the front office, we in my opinion just don’t have enough protection. Get more protection change some laws, but then again people do have the right to own or get guns.”
It is clear from the responses that there are a variety of thoughts and feelings regarding these issues. And there were so many more themes to come out of my students’ reflections. As evidenced above, a lot of young people have deep concerns about the solution to arm teachers that has been so nonchalantly floated by Trump and even more embarrassingly by our Secretary of Education. And why would they not be with stories like this coming out the same day (noted this would be my children’s neighborhood high school in the coming future.) This amidst other ideas that are also problematic in and of themselves, like the understandable reaction to want more police presence on campuses, which we know from past youth led campaigns as well as current ones leads to other issues for young people.
In all, I am very proud of our students and district for attempting to support multiple ways for students to be involved in such an important time in our country’s history. And to be clear, it has always been youth movements to prod this nation reluctantly forward toward more equitable and just realities. But there is so much more to be done. The energy that this movement has sparked is encouraging and I can only hope that it will continue to build and merge with other youth led movements like Black Lives Matter to create the type of broad based coalitions needed to take on and defeat the alt right, neo fascist powers that have taken control of our country. My identity as a social justice educator continues to evolve, only with the help of what my students and their communities have to teach me… and my ability to reflect on these lessons.