My college aged son and I attended the “Enough is Enough” Walk Out rally last Monday, organized by high school aged youth to mark the one month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the one month anniversary of our continued inaction to the public health crisis of gun violence in the United States. In some schools only 1 student walked out, and I applaud their courage to do what they saw as the right thing, even if they were the only one to do it. In Boise, where we live, it was a big rally at the state Capitol, with over 1,000 people, most of them middle and high school aged youth.
This day was about youth, not about me and the other adults there in support. The youth at the Boise rally requested adult allies to be there, not to lead, but to stand witness to what they were doing.
Before I went to seminary, I served a number of churches as youth director. I’ve also parented 2 boys through their teenaged years, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing them and their friends grow up. I’ve known a lot of remarkable teenagers in my time. I have known enough of them to not be surprised when they show us they’ve been listening, watching, observing us “adults”, and then manage to do what we’ve told them to do, even if we haven’t done it so well ourselves.
They haven’t only observed our good teachings, of course. When a jerk with a confederate flag showed up to troll the kids, they responded with the foul language and disrespect they’ve seen from the news, the current White House, and online comment threads.
Teach your children well, goes the song by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. We remember that line. The line I’ve been singing is from the second verse. Teach your parents well.
Graham Nash, who wrote the song, saw a photograph by Diane Arbus that made him realize the truth of the song. It’s a haunting photo.
The children taught us well at the rally last week. They lifted up issues of intersectionality and pointed out that youth in the Black Lives Matter movement have long been protesting against gun violence, and we haven’t listened to them. Monique Kitnikone, youth activist at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence told the crowd:
“(Communities of color) are often the ones experiencing gun violence, yet our voices are not valued in conversations about this topic. Black and brown people have been experiencing gun violence from police and ICE. When it comes to the criminalization of young people of color in schools, it is clear that if teachers were to be armed or have access to firearms in the classrooms, we along with other marginalized identities would be most affected by this.”
Teach your parents well, indeed.
The idea of students walking out of class for 17 minutes (one minute for every life lost) was even controversial to some people. Some schools blocked the doors to the schools to keep kids from leaving. Some schools encouraged and allowed it. Students in some places received an absence, some received detention.
In Arkansas, students faced a choice of punishment. The Green Brier school district “authorizes the use of corporal punishment to be administered in accordance with this policy by the Superintendent or his/her designated staff members who are required to have a state-issued license as a condition of their employment.”
This policy is a recent one. It was approved in 2005, and again in 2012. The Green Brier students chose to face corporal punishment.
One of the students, senior, Wylie Greer, wrote:
“After the 17 minutes had passed, we re-entered the building and went to our classes. Over the next two hours, all three of us were called individually to talk with the dean-of-students. He offered us two choices of punishment, both of which had to be approved by our parents. We would either suffer two ‘swats’ from a paddle or two days of in-school suspension. All three of us chose the paddling, with the support of our parents. I received my punishment during 6th period. The dean-of-students carried it out while the assistant principal witnessed. The punishment was not dealt with malice or cruelty, in fact, I have the utmost respect for all the adults involved. They were merely doing their job as the school board and school policy dictated. The ‘swats’ were not painful or injuring. It was nothing more than a temporary sting on my thighs. The dean-of-students did stress however that not all punishments like this ended this way.
I believe that corporal punishment has no place in schools, even if it wasn’t painful to me. The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling. I hope that this is changed, in Greenbrier, and across the country.”
Coincidentally, Wylie’s mother is an episcopal lay minister. The fact that Wylie chose to take on violence to reveal the inadequacy of using violence to punish non-violent protest against gun violence, suggests that maybe he’s heard about Jesus.
I’m grateful for youth like Wylie, and the youth before them, who are and have been revealing our inaction to the public health crisis of gun violence in non-violent ways. How will we respond, as a country, as we see people taking on violence, threats, and intimidation to reveal our violence back to us?
Teach your parents well, kids.