This is a continuation of #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 1). Please start there and read both posts before leaving a comment at the bottom.
#walkout vs. #walkup
As a history and government teacher (former, but it is still in me), I always encouraged my students to know and exercise their rights. I taught them so that they would be aware of current events and to actively advocate for themselves via their vote, and other means too. That was my job as a teacher. That is my job as a father. And, quite frankly, I wanted my students to be productive and active citizens of their country. That is really important when it comes to the survival of our country.
However, one thing we always talked about and discussed in class was that it was important to be informed before taking action. Allowing emotion and knee-jerk reactions to events could end up causing more confusion (or harm) and being active for the right reason is important. Therein lies the conflict between the two movements that we have seen come out of the most recent school shooting tragedy.
#walkout – or March for Our Lives – is lending itself to the hysteria, and because it makes for “good” media it got all kinds of coverage. As such, the students who are most vocal are being used to perpetuate a narrative that is misleading and inaccurate. And, unfortunately, the students who are active in the movement are protesting the wrong thing or aren’t being active for the right reasons. As my daughter put it, after I asked her why she participated at her school, “Dad, we’re getting killed out here.” To her credit, she does go to a school in a district that experienced it’s own school shooting tragedy, so the community is a little raw when it comes to these things. But, as we have seen in the statistics (previous post), the data doesn’t support her statement. Her generalization was, at the very least, typical teen drama and over-exaggeration. I didn’t run her down or take her to task for participating though. She is one of the few teens I know who actually pays attention to the news and the world around her, even when she isn’t given a school assignment to do so. She does it on her own, and that is important. Instead, we had a discussion about what the root of school shootings really is, why it is important to be informed, and to keep being involved.
#walkup – Students are, typically, quick to jump into action but often they ignore the root problem and go after the symptom. It is easy to blame others or point the finger at someone else rather than to deal with the problem you (or your friends) have created themselves. Having been in the classroom as a teacher for 15 years (let alone my own experiences as being a high school student), I can tell you that school shootings stem, in most cases, from students treating their fellow students poorly. When I say “fellow” students, I don’t just mean the students who are the same age. I mean all students who go to a school.
School shootings DON’T take place every day, let alone on a regular basis. What DOES take place every day, without fail, it that students are treating other students in ways they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves. That is a fact and it is at epidemic levels. Whether it gets reported or not – at school, outside of school, online, in social media – it happens. I saw it or heard it every day, to one degree or another. Teasing, laughing, joking, harassing, whispering about, pointing at, turning their backs, ignoring, physically bullying, etc., etc., etc. You name it; it has probably happened. I am sure you all can look back and remember a time when it happened, where it happened, and whether it was done to you or someone else. It doesn’t take much effort to look back in your own life and remember it.
School shootings DO happen because of this. The only people who can really stop it are the students themselves. As adults we can do everything we can and talk about it and discourage it and punish it, but the fact is that it won’t stop until there is a culture change and the students themselves have to make that happen. Look, one student or even a small group of students likely can’t (or more precisely won’t) do it. It puts a target on their backs and we all know students are vulnerable to the opinions of their peers, whether they like to admit it or not. And, not all students are the problem but may passively “support” the behavior because they don’t want to become a target themselves. There are lots of good kids out there, but those good kids tend to ignore the fact that it is taking place in their presence and most often do nothing to stop it.
Let’s not let the generalization get too far away from us. There are good kids. Lots of them! But we need those good kids to stop being bystanders (we talked a lot about this in my history classes in direct relationship to the Holocaust, but it applies in lots of places) and #walkup to step in when they see or hear it happening around them. Then we will see change. Students need to be the change and it can only really come from them. BUT, it has to be done in the right places and at the right times. #walkout or March for Our Lives isn’t the right thing to be protesting when the students themselves are the root of the problem, and the solution to the problem. They need to stop blaming the symptom on others and step up to own the cause.
I saw it going around social media. A counter argument to the #walkup movement. Apparently some believe that by asking the students to prevent school shootings by stopping or standing up to the behavior of their classmates is victim blaming. This counter argument is completely off base. First, let’s be sure we understand where the term comes from.
Victim blaming has most often been used to describe what happens to a victim as a result of rape or racism (there are other crimes too, but these are the main ones). There are those with the belief that the victim must have done something to deserve the outcome. The victim was the cause and therefore the crime was appropriate for that cause. Obviously, this is not a way to understand or treat victims. No one deserves to be the victim of a crime. So that is precisely where accusing those who participated in the #walkup movement of victim blaming goes off base. No one actually believes that students deserve to be the victims of school shootings or other crimes.
So, am I victim blaming? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Students are and will be the victims of crime in school. They certainly don’t deserve to be the victims of crime. Unfortunately, in a world that is self-focused and has a lack of empathy, our students aren’t immune to the cause nor the crime. I believe that many of the students/victims of school shootings are likely not even participants in the poor treatment of fellow students. They truly are victims in every sense of the word because the become a convenient target for someone bent on destruction.
The Final Word
Students, if you want to stop school shootings, cure the cause. Befriend the friendless. #walkup instead of standing by. Have empathy for your fellow students and and treat them as though you would want to be treated. Listen to each other. Value each other. Protect each other. Put down the phone (or mirror) and take a look around you. You are not that important to be so self-absorbed. You can make a difference, for yourself and for others. But, you have to choose to do so.
I firmly believe, and in my experience I have seen it, that if students do those things they will lessen the number crimes in their school, they will lessen the number of bullies in their school, and most likely also lessen the number of school shootings dramatically. It won’t stop it completely (because there are people who do bad things), but it would go a long way to making it happen.
March 14, 2018, will stand out as one of the more memorable student movements in recent history, though I think it will likely be remembered for the wrong reasons. I say wrong because the movement is a bit short sighted in that it is trying to deal with a symptom and not the problem.
When I taught American Government to my seniors (and my juniors, for that matter), I always made great effort to encourage them to be involved – in their communities, in their state, in politics, in leisure, in things they cared about, and in things that were important to all Americans. So, by discussing this issue I am not discouraging the active participation we saw from our students. We WANT them to be involved and paying attention to what is going on around them. HOWEVER, we also want them to pay attention to the motivations and be good “consumers” of information so they can see through the rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions political parties and the media want them to have. Be informed. Think critically. Make wise choices.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening with the recent protest – the student National Walkout Day and the “March for Our Lives”. This movement, though claimed to be “student led” isn’t. It is hysteria driven. There are may reasons behind the hysteria, but I think it best to say that it essentially stems from a political party bent on limiting the select Constitutional rights of individuals and by a sensationalist, chaos fueled media.
Epidemic vs. tragedy
Some have said that school shootings are at an “epidemic” level, but Merriam-Webster would disagree, even by a really liberal reading. One source that got almost no play or attention from the national media outlets after the shooting and before the protests, because it goes against the desired narrative, is from an expert on the subject of school shootings. James Alan Fox, a distinguished professor from Northeastern University, has studied school shootings for decades and he says there are not more shootings, and schools are actually safer than they used to be (watch and read). The national media, celebrities, and those opposed to guns (the 2nd Amendment; in general; or specifically) don’t want to listen to reason or the facts. Instead, we are told that there are more school shootings and favorable statistics used by special interest groups are highlighted to blow the issue out of proportion for a very specific and targeted purpose.
In my experience, and I think I am a fairly typical American, I would have to say that schools shootings (whether there are people injured or killed) are a rather uncommon occurrence and not the experience of a vast majority of Americans. Let me explain.
I grew up in a fairly typical American community and spent my days getting a fairly typical American education. That means I have been in the American education system from kindergarten (pre-school really, but I won’t count that) through the 12th grade. I spent five years in college (that may be unlike most Americans) as I pursued a history degree and a teaching certificate. Finally, unlike most Americans, I also spent 15 years in an American classroom. So, in all how many days have I spent in a classroom? Well, 13×180=2340 days + 5×180=900 days + 15×180=2700 days, for a grand total of 5940 (+/-) days in an American classroom. I do believe that most American’s can’t claim to have that many days in a classroom, except for those teachers or professors who have taught longer than me.
The point of all that math (remember, history teacher, not math – I hate math) is to establish that I am not talking out of my ass here when I say that in my 33 years of being in an American classroom, I never once saw or heard of a gun in the school. Not once. I would venture a guess that most, like 99.9%, can say the same of their educational experience. Did I ever feel unsafe? Sure, but not because of a gun. Did I ever get threatened by a student? Yes, but not with a gun. So, are we really at epidemic proportions when it comes to guns at school, or even gun violence at school? Not even close. Again, if you look at the math – the number of students in the US and the number of schools in the US versus the number of people in the US, it is a rather small percentage of people who have experienced such a threat or event.
What it is, really, is a tragedy. Merriam-Webster, again, serves us well here. I am not trying to minimize the suffering of those wounded or killed in the events and I am not trying to lessen the impact the families of those students have felt either. Nor am I trying to say that students aren’t the victims of crime. But, what I am trying to do is put the matter into perspective. Hysteria tends to drive a tragedy into a rallying point for further hysteria, which ultimately leads to someone’s rights getting trampled or others becoming unintended victims. We aren’t at epidemic levels for school shootings and we shouldn’t let the hysteria of tragedy turn this into a rallying cry for something that really is only a symptom of the problem, not the catalyst.
This post continues with #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 2). If you would like to comment, please continue to the next post, read ALL of it, then leave a comment.