For the last two years, I have been championing student voice. I believe that our students have something to say, and we need to be listening to them.
So, with March for Our Lives, a student voice movement has gone big-time. And I am excited to see adults hearing what students are saying.
But I am also soberly reminded of how far the student voice process still has to go.
For too long, teachers have felt they were talking to a brick wall of students, and for too long students have felt they were talking to a brick wall of adults.
Unfortunately, it seems it took a tragic school shooting to break down those walls and open communication. The students behind the March for Our Lives movement have seen more progress that many other student movements. Already, Florida has begun rolling out responses to their concerns- but therein lies the first issue.
Student Voice is Impatient
Florida is requiring clear backpacks and IDs for all students and the governor broke with the NRA in a first step. Instead of celebrating a first victory, many in the student movement immediately complained it wasn't enough.
Of course it isn't. Massive changes to how we address mental health, gun laws, and even the way schools are run takes time. But many students may not quite grasp the intricacies of this- so instead of dismissing their frustration as immaturity, we need to make it a teachable moment. Explain that it will take time, and that the victories (which they may not see as victories) are in fact important steps. Student voice must learn persistence. And patience.
Support is Not Necessarily Total Agreement
I watched some of the student leaders on Meet the Press this morning. What I heard were some great things, but I also heard an assumption in their interviews and in their rhetoric that indicated that the marchers completely agreed with all of their ideas. One, that is simply not plausible. But two, assuming total support is risky. Hearing the students assume that everyone who wants to do something about school shootings wants more gun control equates to every supporter of the 2nd Amendment assuming that those who agree with them want NO gun control.
This is dangerous because you ignore elements of your movement that have differing- and perhaps valid- ideas. Ideas that when incorporated and compromised with can make the movement stronger, and the voice louder. There is also a rush that comes from a huge day like yesterday. It was a tremendous victory for awareness, but yes, not everyone there was there in passionate support. I saw one interview with some marchers that had a very different understanding of what the march was. Numbers get attention, but numbers also mean a message is in danger of being diluted and misrepresented. The students who want their voice heard on this need to engage in conversations with different viewpoints, and look for ways they can find common ground. Which leads to...
Marches Get Attention, Conversations Make Changes
There is no doubt the march got people talking. The student leaders deserve tremendous credit for keeping the message alive. But marches will fade from memory unless there are conversations that follow.
The best example of this is Martin Luther King Jr and John F. Kennedy. Following the March on Washington- the march all other marches strive to be- King met with Kennedy. It was a conversation that built on the moment of the March.
I hope that these students continue to seek conversations with leaders. More importantly, I hope our leaders listen. This is key- not just hear, LISTEN.
Listening is more than acknowledging a viewpoint, it is engaging with it. It is hearing the pain and passion and hope and strength- and it is hearing the things that need to be course corrected.
I will have students tomorrow who want to talk about the March. You might as well. They may agree or disagree with it, they may share views that only half-formed, or that are in direct contradiction to your own.
Then, engage. Not to prove wrong or right, but to understand, and to support. Not necessarily their view, but their right to explore their opinions, fears, and hopes.
Students and adults can learn from the March for Our Lives. We can learn about more than just ending gun violence, we can learn about how to have a tough conversation. What to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do.
My view of the March for Our Lives is this- it is a chance to start some tough, but necessary discussions.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.