EDITORIAL: Walkout is a teachable moment

York Dispatch

The explosion of student engagement and activism that followed the horrendous school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, continues tomorrow with a planned walkout.

More:17 lives lost too soon mourned after Florida school shooting

At 10 a.m. Wednesday across the state and nation — indeed, around the world —students plan to leave class to protest congressional inaction in the wake of a now-decades-long string of mass shootings at public schools. In many cases, they’ll be joined by educators, parents and other supporters.

The protests come one month to the day after the Parkland shooting and are to last 17-minutes — commemorating the 17 students and faculty members killed in the Valentine’s Day attack. At many demonstrations, the names of the 17 victims will be read aloud.

Locally, Dallastown is among the districts in which students have announced plans to join the demonstration. Additional protests would not be surprising. Nor should they be discouraged. There are lessons to be learned Wednesday and not all of them have to do with gun violence.

Protesting the actions — or inaction — of authority, after all, is what this country was founded upon. But more to the point, students — all Americans, really — should never take for granted the right to assemble peacefully to air their grievances.  

Educators can point to movements from the abolitionists of the 1850s to the suffragettes of the 1910s to the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s to show how public pressure has induced lawmakers to move in the direction of progress.

And the voices of young people should be encouraged and celebrated.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have not only endured a heart-wrenchingly brutal attack but have used it as motivation to speak out against what they see as the legislative failures that enabled it. Their poise, passion, eloquence and enthusiasm have ignited political awareness among their peers nationwide.

Good educators will see the opportunity in tapping into this engagement to not only educate but encourage. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.

Bad educators will do what school administrators in Canfield, Ohio; Beaufort County, South Carolina; and too many other districts are planning to do: reprimand or punish students who take part in the demonstrations.

That’s an unfortunate and unnecessarily rigid response, particularly in light of the seriousness with which the students are planning to show solidarity. Not to mention the consideration: Plans call for the entire walkout to take just a half-hour; not so much eclipsing the day’s instruction as augmenting it.

A York attorney has offered up his services free of charge should any local students find themselves facing charges as a result of the walkouts. That’s a generous and affirmative offer, but let’s hope those services are not needed.

More:Lawyer stands by as York County students plan to join walkout on March 14

The issue of gun violence in this nation is widely debated and ongoing. And from Columbine to Sandy Hook to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, students have too often been literally caught in the crossfire. They should be not only commended for speaking up but respected for their courageousness and encouraged in their engagement.

After all, the power of public dissent means nothing when taught inside the classroom if it is not respected when practiced outside the classroom.