Thousands of Wake County Students walked out of class today to honor the memory of students and teachers killed last month in a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida and to call for stricter gun control.
The march and walkout were coordinated by The Women’s March, an organization with strong ties to the progressive Action Network. That’s important since WCPSS officials have repeatedly said the student demonstrations are not political events.
WCPSS said it will not discipline students who chose to participate in the demonstration, largely because they made it so they can’t. The school board changed the student conduct policy to allow such student demonstrations and prohibit students from being disciplined.
Last week I laid out in an article why I believe the Wake County School System erred when making its policy. I am not alone. There are many others—nationally—who disagree with the policy of schools advocating for student demonstrations while at the same time removing from students all the consequences of their actions.
Yesterday on the website The 74, Robert Pondiscio, a Senior fellow at the Fordham Institute and an advisor to Democracy Prep Public Schools in Harlem where he teaches a senior seminar on civics and citizenship, shared his thoughts on the topic when he wrote:
Student civic engagement is to be encouraged, even celebrated, but that doesn’t mean it must meet with official approval. Indeed, it is essential that it does not. If students have permission to walk out, it’s no longer student activism at all. It’s a field trip. And that’s part of the teachable moment, too. The message to students should be clear: If this issue is important to you, then it’s worth the consequence. Otherwise, you’re not protesting gun violence, you’re boycotting chemistry class. By its very nature, an act of civil disobedience means the protester refuses to comply with rule, norms, and expectations. Permission, by definition, restores the element of compliance, robbing the protest of any meaning.
Later in the same column , Pondiscio raises the other question that has gone unanswered throughout these developments.
Schools that refuse to enforce standard discipline over the Parkland protest may regret it down the road. The vast majority of schools are publicly financed and government-run. If school officials grant students permission to walk out to protest gun violence (a refusal to enforce disciplinary norms is tantamount to official approval), they must also not punish those who disrupt learning to protest in favor of gun rights, or for or against abortion, police violence, or any conceivable political cause. This includes viewpoints many in a school community might deem repellent. Thus, the only sane policy on the Parkland protest is an aggressively neutral stance — with consequences. . .
As someone who is deeply concerned about the role of our schools in preparing young people for citizenship, I expect to be cheered by Wednesday’s display of student activism, regardless of whether I agree with its political agenda. But as a civics teacher, my message to students would be that the courage of your convictions carries a price. If your cause is just, you should pay it with honor and dignity.
I share Pondiscio’s sentiments about the importance of the teaching moment. Our schools’ rush to encourage student demonstrations teaches the wrong lesson and creates an unworkable policy. Both good reasons why the policy needs to be changed.