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History Shows That Young People and Their Activism Should Not be Underestimated

Recently, those dissatisfied with conditions affecting our nation’s schools have taken to walking out. In West Virginia, teachers went on strike to protest low wages and eroding benefits.  Across the nation, students are now walking out of class to protest lax gun laws that have contributed to school shootings. In the wake of the recent deadly shooting at a high school in Florida, teenage students have become activists in a way not seen since the protests of the Vietnam War and the American Revolution. Today, people forget that many of the founding fathers were very young, James Armistead (15), James Monroe (18), Aaron Burr (20), Alexander Hamilton (21) and so on. Also, that young people changed public opinion during the Vietnam War.

School districts have responded to students’ gun control walkouts in various ways.  Although more liberal districts have chalked the temporary absenteeism up to a rightful exercise of Constitutional rights, more conservative districts have sought to punish those who protest.  Many students who walked out in protest of lax gun laws in the United States found themselves facing detention.

As a high school teacher myself, I can attest that nothing annoys those in power more than students not being in school.  Students exercising their freedom of speech does little, due to adults rarely listening to children.  High school students, no matter how eloquent, are unlikely to draw much attention to gun laws.  However, when students are not in school, districts lose money from the state.  Absenteeism is such a big deal in most states because school attendance determines school funding, and money talks.

If students refuse to sit obediently in their desks while AR-15s are still easy for virtually any civilian to purchase, powerful adults are going to face financial consequences.  Principals, superintendents, and state legislators will face political heat.  With money on the line, these adults will have no choice but to listen to the teenagers whose walkouts could throw monkey wrenches into revenue streams.

Walking out of school is a powerful statement, and politically protected by the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of peaceful assembly.  While students who walk out of school in protest may be rightfully punished for breaking school rules, they cannot be punished more harshly than students who are absent for any other reason.  If a student receives a harsher punishment for walking out of class to protest gun laws than a peer who was skipping class to enjoy an extra long lunch, then the school has violated the Constitution.

Students should be encouraged to exercise thier political voices in a bold but respectful manner.  If students believe that state and federal laws concerning firearms are insufficient, it is reasonable for them to feel morally compelled to protest the situation with all appropriate means at their disposal, including a peaceful walkout.  It is one of the few things they can do that will get administrators and legislators to actually listen.

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