14 Mar

A few years ago, I was teaching middle school in a charter school. I have a lot of thoughts on charters and whether or not they are good for education. But one huge positive of working there was that I had a lot of autonomy within my classroom. And so we did a TON of “culture” lessons.  And not just food or holiday lessons. But really meaningful stuff.


You see, when I think about my view of education and my job, while the reading and writing and math are obviously hugely important, the real, overarching goal is for students to leave me ready to be better citizens.  To be good human beings who are kind to everyone. To be those good humans even when no one is watching. To be open-minded and respectful to others who are “different.” To be able to identify good sources of information.  To recognize when someone has a bias/motivation for telling you something which might make it untrue. To be lifelong learners committed to self-reflection and improvement.


So one year in the charter, I decided to do a unit on El Movimiento–the Chicano movement. In the 1960’s, Mexican-Americans fought for their rights and against discrimination. We looked at the historical events of that time, talked about how it was like the Civil Rights Movement, discussed our government, how laws are changed, and methods of non-violent protest. The kids got super into it–having heated discussions about non-violent versus violent movements and whether things had changed or not since the 60’s. I sometimes facilitated conversations, but often they just took charge. They were 7th and 8th graders, but they had plenty to say (including many jokes about how they were gonna walkout of my class ha).  We culminated the study by watching the movie Walkout.


I had all but forgotten this, and then today, as I watched some video footage of the walkouts happening around the country, someone said “walkout” just the same way as in the movie, and it all flooded back to me. The main character had organized a walkout in her school to protest poor student treatment (I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, but one scene that really stood out to me was when students spoke Spanish to each other in the halls or at lunch, they got hit–there was a sign that said “if it’s not worth saying in English, it’s not worth saying.”).  Anyway at the designated time, she stood up, mid-class, and quietly said, “Walkout.” Everyone looked uncertain until she said it again. And again.  And again, louder, and eventually joined by other students. It was a really powerful scene in the movie. The walkouts today were, for me anyway, similarly powerful and moving.


Reading the comments on the videos from the news today, I was so saddened by the hatred and condescension of adults. I don’t know how we’ve forgotten that students and young people have been behind so many of our biggest social movements.  And why shouldn’t YOUNG ADULTS (not kids…they’re not little kids anymore) have a say in the country, since they’ll be the ones living in it for the longest? Why are we trying to silence them, as though that will stop the progress and change that they are so determined to make. Why not engage with them, debate them, listen to them and support them? Shouldn’t we be pushing kids to think of ways to make the world a better place, to fight for what they believe in and to work tirelessly to accomplish their goals? What message are we sending by trying to silence them or treat them like babies with nothing important to say?


I, for one, am insanely proud of all of the young people who planned, organized and carried out walkouts today.  This country needs more people to step up and lead the way to make sure we grow into the best possible version of ourselves, individually and collectively. We need an engaged, informed electorate to make sure our democracy is as strong as it possibly can be.  Sometimes, teaching is really tiring.  But watching those kids today, I felt so hopeful and energized.  At a time when things often seem bleak and challenging, seeing the signs, the students, the orange…it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, we are going to be alright.

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