Those children and adults participating in March 14th's #Enough Gun Control Student Walkout were depicted as courageous, intelligent and a representation of all Americans' opinions on gun control. Using children as the mouthpiece for this cause has created a situation of moral blackmail. The technique used is insisting you cannot separate the child from the position. So to be against the position is to be against children.
Of course, we know that respectful people can, and do separate the two all the time. We can and should treat with respect, our neighbor or family member, even if we disagree on issues such as global warming, abortion or who is going to win the Superbowl.
In the case of gun-control, encouraging children to believe that anyone opposed to gun-control is an advocate for school shootings is destructive. Anyone who truly advocates for school shootings is an evil person, period. And of course, a belief that gun control is not the solution in no way means you advocate for the killing of children.
After hearing these equivalencies time and time again, the connection, anti-gun control = evil person is made. Even if someone doesn't understand the specifics of gun-control, they have to support it, because to do otherwise would be a support of murder. This is how well-intentioned people are co-opted into advocating for something they don't understand. Let me start by saying this (my personal opinion):
I respect anyone, young or old, who forms an opinion on a topic, based on facts and full understanding of the issue. I respect anyone who is truthful enough to stand up and straightforwardly explain his/her beliefs. I respect anyone who stands up for his/her convictions, even if his/her opinion is not the popular one. And I respect anyone who is civil enough to present his/her opinions respectfully and with an understanding that people who disagree may not be evil. And I do all of this even if I do not agree with his/her premise.
Encouraging a Divisive Environment in School:
Opposing points of view on the topic of gun control is far from new. But forcing young children to pick a side on this extremely polarizing and complex topic is new, and unfair. This is exactly what happened when adults decided to allow the school day to turn into a political rally that turns children against one another. How in a time where our aim is to foster acceptance of all beliefs, stop bullying and hatred toward others, could adults be so blinded to the divisiveness of this event?
How when we know that many kids who commit extreme violence against others, were bullied, ostracized and marginalized, could adults force children at school to choose a side in this debate? This situation surely will subject kids who do not agree with the popular sentiment to ridicule. And if kids really want to be morally good, how could they possibly tolerate kids who didn't march?
A fact about the Parkland School shooting that is undeniable is that adults in the FBI and Broward Sheriffs Department failed to properly utilize the special authority given to them to protect the children in that school. The same failure to protect children is happening again by adults who are pushing a political agenda.
All Kids Agree on Gun Control:
You wouldn't know it by listening to the news, but there were kids who chose not to participate in the march. How do we handle these kids who may have a sincere belief that gun control is not the solution? Do we lump them in with those NRA members and publicly call the kids terrorists?
The child who is against gun control because his parent used a gun to stop a home invader from killing his family sits in class. This child watches nearly all of his classmates leave the school, supported by teachers and faculty members. He becomes aware that he holds the minority position among his peers and teachers. To make it worse, he is told that by not participating, he supports killing kids.
Now, the children who marched return to class, triumphant and joyous because they are noble, compassionate and brave for standing up for their beliefs. Invigorated by the show of solidarity and morality of the marchers, kids denounce those who didn't march as terrorists and facilitators of evil. When this happens who does the denounced child reach out to for help or guidance? The teacher who he watched march in support of those who now accuse him of being immoral?
Could this have some impact on the psyche of a child? Of course. It has impact, terrible impact. The type of impact that can push children to hate those around them and believe violence is a justifiable response. This is why we don't use our schools for these types of political events.
But perhaps I was wrong in my assessment. After all, I am not a child psychologist, and I have not seen these subject experts appear on the news warning of these potential outcomes. I didn't hear much about the kids who didn't participate, and what happened when kids returned to school after the march. So we sent a post out to all our social media sites requesting that parents whose children didn't attend the walkout, tell us what happened with their children.
Through the post and my personal outreach, I compiled many stories that confirmed my fears that this school walkout would result in a harmful polarization of children. From the many stories, I chose three incidents that encapsulated various negative effects of the event.
What is Wrong is Always Wrong:
Matthias Ristow commented on our call to action post to make us aware of his 16-year-old daughter's story. Initially, he believed we may not have wanted to cover it in this article. To the contrary, his daughter's story clearly affirms my initial concerns. For that reason I want her story to be the first one you hear about.
Matthias said his daughter who I will refer to as YM participated in the march that day. She did so because she has strong opinions about the topic of gun control and school safety. YM's reason for participating in the march? She does not want to “experience a ‘Parkland' in her school.” A completely understandable sentiment, and even more so because she is old friends with well-known, vocal survivor of the Parkland School shooting Emma Gonzalez.
The march went off without a hitch, but the issue began when YM returned to class after the march. She was confronted by a few pro-gun students who didn't attend the march. Ristow said YM told him that they made her feel uncomfortable. The kids said things such as “The walkout was totally unnecessary, only designed to take their guns away, to eliminate the 2nd amendment, to ensure they cannot defend themselves against anarchy and tyranny.” As understandable as YM's opinion of gun control and school safety is, the things the kids were saying are not completely without merit.
Nevertheless, YM felt uncomfortable, and Ristow himself described it as bullying. Whether what happened met a legal standard of bullying is inconsequential. More importantly, we do not have a sliding scale when it comes to what is wrong and right. Obviously, I wasn't there, but IF these kids were trying to intimidate or attack YM for her opinion, it is unequivocally wrong. And furthermore, maybe the pro-gun kids did not intentionally try to make YM feel uncomfortable. Does their intention or lack thereof invalidate YM's feelings? Absolutely not.
Thank you to Matthias for sharing this incident because we can take away some important lessons. First, if the march was designed to create a conversation on the topic of gun control, it succeeded. Kids on both sides of the gun control debate were able to make their opinions known. But facilitating an event like this is sure to pit kids against one another. If there is not a facilitator who can ensure that the conversation is respectful and controlled, kids can feel intimidated, invalidated and attacked when what they believe in is challenged. Secondly, it does not matter which side of the topic the child is on, the potential for bullying is very real.
Forced to Choose a Side:
Jacob Shoemaker, a Senior at Hilliard Darby Highschool in Ohio also had an opinion on the topic. Jacob didn't make his opinion known by way of a walkout or protest. He sat alone in a classroom and received a one-day suspension. There was some confusion about the actual reason for the suspension, but here is the straight scoop from Jacob's mouth. School administration gave the students two options for the walkout. They could participate in the walkout, or they could gather in a classroom supervised by a teacher.
Jacob met with the principal beforehand and asked about the purpose of the march. The principal stated that it was so the ‘students could express themselves.' Since the majority opinion was that the march was in support of gun control, Jacob said he would rather not be forced to choose. A binary choice, A) participate and support gun control or B) gather in the common classroom and be labeled as someone who supports school shooting. Jacob wanted choice C) not be forced to naively break down this complex issue into two choices, for or against. Jacob wanted to stay in class and have his teachers teach the lessons they are paid to teach.
At the moment of truth, when students and teachers left for the walkout, and others gathered in the designated classroom, Jacob sat alone for 20 minutes in his classroom, refusing to choose. That day, Jacob received a one-day suspension, and the photo of the suspension slip quickly went viral. Jacob knew he would be suspended for not following direction from school staff. But he did so anyway because he wanted to stand up for what he believed in. He said he doesn't believe politics belong in school or that students should be forced to pick a side.
Wow. No matter what you believe in when it comes to the gun debate, this young man's reasoning and commitment to stay apolitical shows amazing character, integrity and wisdom beyond his years. You can hear Jacob explain what happened from an interview he did on Fox News.
As upsetting as the first two stories are, this next one is especially troubling. When we send our kids away to school, we want to know exactly what they are doing and what types of school-sanctioned events they will participate in, especially when it involves elementary and middle school kids.
I will refer to the girl in this story as ‘JL.' JL is your average American 13-year-old girl living in Colorado. Her opinion is that more gun-control would not have an impact on stopping future shootings. JL's mother, also someone who is opposed to gun-control heard about the possible walkout. Aware of the extreme emotions on both sides of the debate, JL and her mother spoke about what she should do. JL felt she did not want to subject herself to the possible character assassination that usually comes with voicing an opinion against gun control. The family decided that JL would take the day off, and abstain from engaging in the political event.
But then, Douglas County School District (DCSD) Interim Superintendent, Erin Kane sent out a video message to all DCSD parents. In the two minute video, Kane made it a point to convey that the school district ‘does not endorse' the walkout. She said however that they “respect our students' voices.” Not exactly sure how allowing children to walk out of school during class is much different from endorsing it. Evidently, DCSD students can leave school anytime (not just for school ‘endorsed' events), because administration ‘respects their voices?'
Anyhow, Kane explained how the school would facilitate the walkout. This was Kane's video statement regarding how the walkout would be handled on middle and elementary school campuses:
… as those are closed campuses, there will be no walkouts or demonstrations on middle school or elementary school campuses. Parents, we certainly respect your right to come and get your children out of school, sign them out, and take them to a walkout or protest that is off campus. But we are keeping our campuses, middle school and elementary free of all walkouts or protests for the safety of our kids.
After listening to the message and learning there would be no walkout or protest on the grounds, JL and her mother decided she should go to school. Unfortunately, there was indeed a walkout on her middle school campus. Like every other child across the country who attended a school that ‘respected the children's voices' JL was forced to choose a side. She stood for her convictions and abstained from the march. She was one of 5 students who stayed behind. 13-year-old JL received ‘dirty looks and the silent treatment' from fellow classmates for not participating.
There was a silver lining to all this. While the march took place, JL was able to engage in a ‘great conversation with her teacher' who actually supported her stance.
Even so, parents of these students were lied to. Done intentionally or not, this is an abuse of the trust and power we give to teachers and school staff. And for what? A recognition of the kids' voices? And what exactly were those 13 year old voices saying?
According to JL's mom, “Several of the students did not know why they walked out. She [JL] asked them. One told her that her (sic), supported guns, that's why he walked out. Another told her that they did not support Florida forcing teachers to carry guns, that is why they walked out.” So kids were marching in support of guns, against teachers having guns and many others had no idea why. And unless 13-year-olds have changed drastically since I was one, some most certainly marched just to get out of class.
This is Exploitation of Children for a Political Agenda, Without Concern for the Consequences:
Children have undoubtedly been harmed by this stunt. Lines have been drawn, kids are divided into camps based on limited understanding of one of the most complex issues we face. Is it worth it? Is it fair to marginalize groups of children and turn them into possible targets of hatred? The media holds one group of kids as heroes, and won't mention kids who show the courage to stand by their beliefs in the face of much opposition.
Media, are kids who decided not to march, not worth as much as those who have your same political opinion?
The walkout's intent was 100% political. Anyone doubting that, need only look at the activist organization that orchestrated the protests. These were not spontaneous demonstrations of autonomous kids. This was an organized, political circus that used children without concern, as puppets.
In another example of blatant political exploitation of children, Catherine Pugh the mayor of Baltimore spent one-hundred-thousand taxpayer dollars to shuttle students from Baltimore to Washington DC so they could protest for gun control. Yes, violent, run down Baltimore. Baltimore, where schools have no heat, and where an overwhelming number of schools have not a single child who can pass state proficiency exams.
We have lost civility in our country. It is completely acceptable to hate and slander people with different political opinions. This event transferred that damaging behavior onto our kids. This event has made it acceptable to disparage or dismiss children for having an opposing opinion, or no opinion at all.
Allowing this event to take place at schools, facilitated compelling children as young as 13 years old to choose a political stance on controversial topics. This is unacceptable in so many ways, and parents should demand that it be stopped. Today, some may not see a problem with allowing these types of events in school because it was a protest for something they believe in. But be weary, tomorrow it could be another event they oppose. When and where do we draw the line?
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