All across the country students in middle and high schools are having the same conversation: should we walk out? They are asking the question of each other and starting to ask their teachers. As a teacher there are some caveats, we are always told we should remain politically neutral. Whether you believe that or not is a wholly separate discussion. What does matter is how we respond to students who are asking these questions.
I hear people all over the world talk about how much they value Student Voice. So many in education have followed the trend to embrace student voice. So when your school has a walk out, when your kids start to stand up for something and actually use that voice to make a difference, what then? You don’t even have to agree with their position, only support their ability to use their voice to make a difference. I have heard of schools that have threatened students who plan on walking out as a means of protest. I have heard of schools instructing teachers to barricade the doors. How can we say we support student voice if we don’t actually allow them to use their voice?
Our school just had an incredible assembly that chronicled the lives and actions of young people during the Civil Rights Movement through images, stories, and songs. It focused on how so many of the people involved in protests, marches, and speaking out were young people. Many of the most important moments that took place during the movement did so with the help of students. Their voices mattered. They stood for their beliefs, knew the consequences of their actions, and persisted anyway. The assembly was created to remind our students that they have power in their voice.
Student voice isn’t about the ability to pick between using Google Slides and using a 3D design. It also isn’t just about making school lunches better. I tell my kids when they start the year that I want them to make a difference in the world. I tell them that they matter. So what do I do? What do I say? If I don’t support them then how do I pretend to support student voice? I will undoubtedly be joined by countless other teachers over the next few months in making a choice. While many schools will support student voice, many will try to suppress it. What we do then will be telling. I only hope to be able to live up to my own words and help my kids learn how to use their voice for good.
Here is a link from the ACLU to help your students learn what consequences their actions may have if they choose to walk out.