Let the Students Lead

When we first heard the news of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, we felt sickened, heartbroken, and exhausted.  Here was yet another tragic school shooting, this one resulting in the unbearable loss of 17 people.

We wearily posted once again the guidelines we’ve assembled to help teachers do the important work of processing upsetting events with their students.  We geared up for creating another classroom lesson on gun violence and the debate over gun control to post on the TeachableMoment section of our website.

But then, within hours, came the news from Parkland, Florida:  The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas were not just grieving. They didn’t just want the nation’s sympathies and prayers. They wanted action. Senior Emma Gonzalez wiped away tears, but her voice shook with rage and determination:  “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because … we are going to be the last mass shooting.… We are going to change the law.”  

Morningside Center was founded with a mission of helping young people to become active and informed citizens with the skills they need to build a more just and peaceful world. It would be hard to find a better example of informed and active citizenship than what the students from Parkland are doing right now. We applaud them, as we applaud the courageous young people of color who are organizing to make black lives matter, and immigrant students who are putting their lives on the line to demand just immigration policies.

Morningside Center’s mission is also to help educators make their schools and classrooms safe, caring and equitable – to make schools a microcosm of that better world we envision. While the Parkland students are driving us toward that vision, the Trump administration and other proponents of arming teachers and militarizing our schools are driving in the exact opposite direction: They would turn our schools into prisons and teachers into prison guards.

Yes, we need to keep our students safe, above all else. But evidence shows that gun proliferation makes people less safe, not more safe. Guns turn schools into places of danger and violence, not education. Militarization is about compliance. But schools should be about learning and liberation. Police tactics, treating students as criminals… these inhumane strategies have already been tried, and they utterly failed. They especially failed students of color, who are targeted for harsh discipline and suspension out of all proportion to both their numbers and their behavior. We and many others are working hard to implement positive alternatives that do show promise in reducing harm and keeping students connected and engaged, including restorative practices and school-wide social and emotional learning.

To take advantage of this teachable moment on active citizenship, we’ve posted a new lesson that has students hear the voices of young people from Parkland and consider all the ways that they are turning their grief and anger into strategic action.

Students and their allies are planning several actions in the coming months:

March 14, 2018: The Women’s March’s Youth EMPOWER group is planning a National School Walkout.  At 10 a.m. in every time zone, organizers are encouraging teachers, students, administrators, parents and allies to walk out for 17 minutes — one for every person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are encouraging educators throughout the country to wear orange on this day.

March 24, 2018: Student organizers, including those from Parkland, are planning a March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., to call for school safety and gun control. Sister marches are planned around the country, including in New York City.

April 20, 2018: On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, students are calling for a high school #NationalSchoolWalkout through this Change.org petition page. The AFT, NEA, National Public Education Network, and others have pledged to take action against gun violence on that day as well.

Let the students lead. We will be right behind them, and we hope you will be too.