Educators around the country are being presented with a particularly rare teaching moment tomorrow. A 17-minute, nationwide walkout has been organized to bring attention to the murders of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and to advocate for gun laws designed to make mass shootings like the one in Parkland, Fla., less likely in the future.
School officials will be conflicted as to how to handle the walkouts.
Do they punish students for disrupting class or recognize and tolerate their rights to organize and advocate for a cause. We strongly believe they should let students have their say and we hope schools and parents will enhance the walkouts by using them to nurture discussion about the role of guns in society.
Grays Harbor College has a process that allows students who arrange it ahead of time to miss two classes in a year for matters of religion or conscience. That seems like a good solution. Some school districts we contacted, including Aberdeen’s, allow students to take part if they have a form filled out by their parents. Students who are 18 can fill out their own forms. In Aberdeen’s case, those who walk out without permission, may be subject to lunchtime detention. That punishment, while unnecessary, doesn’t seem excessive.
Of the many roles schools play these days, one of the most important is preparing students to be citizens. Basic civics courses – the study of institutions in our communities and our relationships to them – have been squeezed out or given short shrift.
Our society has disagreements over guns and the Second Amendment. Previous generations have not done a good job of resolving them. As this generation looks for a way to keep us safe and preserve our freedom, let’s not impede it over the use of its First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.