Students across the nation will walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning, in memory of the 17 people killed last month at a high school in Florida.
And despite entreaties from some school administrators not to take part, we argue that local high school students should join the movement.
The planned walkout is just 17 minutes, and students can learn plenty from that short break in the school day should they decide to own it and use their time wisely. They will get a different kind of education — a lesson about their ability to disrupt the status quo and the consequences for doing so, about the power of demonstration and what people can accomplish when they work together.
We’re pleased that some school districts — such as Pendleton — have offered alternatives within the school environment that keep students in classrooms, while still grappling with the problem of school safety and gun violence. We also like Hermiston’s plan that allows students to walk out and be heard, but remain under supervision while on school property.
A walkout is not without risk.
There are downsides to events like this, and surely some students will use this movement as a cover to blow off class or blow off steam in an unproductive way. That’s unfortunate, but itself not without a learning opportunity. Students are bound to learn that protests are judged by many on the foolish actions of a few.
But we hope the majority of students use the time wisely, to consider their safety and their fellow students across the nation. We hope they return to class invigorated and engaged, and to take the responsibility to make up whatever they missed.
Standing up for yourself and your future is a rite of passage every teenager must navigate. It’s never easy. Often, the journey is filled with awkwardness — a lack of self-confidence combined with a deep need to buck authority and become the singular person you want to be. A walkout is one opportunity to take non-violent action that helps define who you are and your future
It doesn’t have to be partisan and political. You don’t have to be in favor of gun control, or in favor of armed teachers. Students can walk out solely in memory of the lives lost, and to give themselves the ability to think for a few minutes about their own safety and what they want — and demand — in the way of protection. Certainly everyone who walks out will have a different solution in mind.
Not everyone will feel that way, and students may face reprisals. Perhaps they will be suspended from school, perhaps they will be saddled with an additional essay to explain their reasoning. We’d argue that’s all in a day’s work of trying to accomplish something outside the ordinary. There is always a standby outrage from those who disagree, and there is always a heaping helping of additional responsibility on those who try anything.
Still, the reprisals may all be temporary, and the benefits may be lasting. Many colleges — from Yale to UCLA — have told prospective students that unexcused absences or other consequences resulting from the walkout won’t affect admission. In fact, one could imagine many scholarship-winning essays penned about standing up for their beliefs.
Pendleton, which has been an active place for protesters over the last two years, will host a separate march on Saturday, March 24. That march also dovetails with a national event, and you can bet hundreds of people will take part locally while millions march nationally. Students should be at the front of that march, learning how to lead and how to inspire their community.
But those students must first be able to find their voices. Wednesday offers an opportunity for them to do so, to try on the persona of being changers and shapers of the world, instead of just watchers and complainers and victims. Who knows — they may find that they like it.