The National School Walkout perfectly sums up politics in 2018. It makes total sense to draft school kids as political activists, because all of our politics is already just an inflated version of middle school.
The most striking fact about this walkout is how it became effectively a school sponsored political event in many areas. Actually, that’s only the second most striking fact. The most striking fact is that it was the brainchild of the Women’s March, an organization founded and still run by fangirls of a rabid anti-Semite. So naturally their initiatives are embraced by the nation’s teachers. I’m glad everybody got the memo about not tolerating bigots.
But back to the school sponsorship. Here’s a rundown of how the walkouts are being treated:
Students at Corvallis High School in Corvallis, Oregon, will stream onto the football field at 10 am, where the scoreboard will count down 17 minutes and the organizers will outline 17 action points. At Audubon Park Elementary in Orlando, Florida, fifth-grade students will observe a moment of silence for the Parkland victims; younger students will participate in age-appropriate observances, and their parents will write letters to Congress and the White House. At Unity Prep Charter in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, middle school students are making posters, which they’ll hand out and display as they march around the block.
The same report quotes a student walkout organizer: “My principal came up to me; he said, ‘We can’t condone this in any way,’ but he gave me a wink.” Remember that this is a protest with a very specific legislative agenda. Yet one journalist describes getting a notice from school informing students and parents that they can “opt out” of the walkout events.
My kids’ public school is allowing students to “opt out” of the National School Walkout, with the plain implication that the protest has the political endorsement of the school. pic.twitter.com/a8gYVkR6UI
— Anthony L. Fisher (@anthonyLfisher) March 12, 2018
“Opting out” is what you say about a school-sponsored field trip, which is basically what this is. And this was for fifth-graders.
I have a fifth-grader, by the way, and I take great pains to keep him away from politics. My child’s function is not to be a sock puppet for anybody’s partisan agenda, not even my own. His job at school is to learn the basics of history, science, mathematics, and so on, so that when he becomes an adult he will have the basis for making informed and independent judgments about politics. But at this age, student activists cannot be anything but sock puppets.
That’s what we’ve found out about the Parkland kids, by the way. It turns out the line repeated by the Parkland student—at least, the ones sponsored by Move On and CNN—about how the NRA is totally responsible for gun violence comes directly from one of their teachers, who apparently liked to use his class time to rail against NRA obstructionism. People who agree with them—namely, their interviewers on cable TV shows—have lauded them for being so well-informed, but clearly they aren’t, because they haven’t heard both sides of the argument, just the one that was spoonfed to them. I’m willing to bet that the teacher who blamed everything on the NRA did not tell them that the majority of Americans generally oppose gun control, did not have them read the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed Second Amendment protection for private firearms ownership, and did not review, for example, the extensive research about the use of guns in self-defense.
It’s possible for someone to graduate from school ignorant of all of these arguments and having been molded into a specific set of political views by activist teachers. That is more or less what the public schools are designed to do these days. And perhaps that explains a lot of what is wrong with our grown-up politics.
That’s the other reason I find all this political activism in the schools so disturbing. It’s not just the prospect of having activism foisted onto kids by their teachers. It’s also the pressure put on kids by their peers to be part of the “correct” political side—and perhaps this explains why our supposedly adult politics is so appallingly juvenile.
All of our politics these days is basically middle school writ large. It’s all about cliques, ostracism, mean girl putdowns, and posturing on social media. In place of cliques, we have parties and factions and political identities defined by hashtags. In place of ostracism, we have people trying to get anyone who disagrees with them fired and burrowing themselves into media bubbles where they reflexively dismiss anything they don’t like as “fake news.” In place of the culture of putdowns and juvenile insults, we have Hillary Clinton declaring that people who didn’t vote for her come from “backward” parts of the country, or Trump followers railing against “elites.” In place of Instagram we have Twitter, and in place of cyberbullying we have Twitter outrage mobs. I can’t imagine what it looks like when you combine today’s juvenile middle school politics with actual middle school. It’s like a perfect storm of conformity and posturing.
So my problem isn’t so much with the kids doing the walkout, but with the adults who aren’t doing a better job of “modeling good behavior,” as they say in contemporary parenting jargon. The best way to teach kids how to behave is to lead by example. I’m afraid we’re setting a terrible example, and decades from now we will see the petty middle-school politics of 2018 reflected back at us.