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Editorial: Student protests a teachable moment for all

Editorial: Student protests a teachable moment for all

Wednesday walkout over Parkland shooting will be revealing
Editorial: Student protests a teachable moment for all
Demonstrators at a protest calling for stricter gun laws outside of the Florida House of Representatives, Feb. 21, 2018.
Photographer: Audra Melton/The New York Times

A lot of events in life are defined as “teachable moments” for kids.

Touch a hot stove. Teachable moment.

A child asks why something is done in a particular way: Teachable moment.

Often, the individual delivering the teachable moment is an adult and the beneficiary is a child.

But Wednesday’s planned student walkout to remember the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre will be a teachable moment not only for students, but for their teachers, school administrators and the rest of us.

The students are taking it upon themselves to initiate this particular teachable moment, organizing the walkouts in their individual schools and setting the parameters. They’re establishing the timing of the walkout and the tone.

They’re deciding what they want do at the walkouts and what they’ll get out of them. They’re deciding how they conduct themselves and what they will do to follow up their protest -- such as getting more actively involved in school security, political lobbying and gun-violence prevention.

For the adults we’ll also be getting a teachable moment from the protests.

We’ll learn how passionate the next generation is about this issue by the manner in which they conduct themselves. We’ll learn how articulate they are. We might learn that they know more than we thought they did, and we might have to admit that they’re not all a bunch of uncaring, selfie-taking potheads. If the protests are conducted in an orderly, thoughtful manner, we might come to have a new respect for this generation.

And from that, we might be inclined to listen to what they say.

There’s a scene from an old “Little Rascals” episode where the younger kids figure out a quick way to the top of a mountain, getting there far ahead of the older kids who had dismissed them when they wanted to tag along. As the younger kids are eating jelly sandwiches, one of the leaders of the older kids is forced to admit, “We’re not so smart.”

These protests might force us adults to listen to these young people, perhaps admit that we haven’t always done things in the most productive or efficient way, that we don’t have all the answers, that we need to look at this issue from a perspective different from our own. We’ll be watching for the follow-ups to see if the kids are serious and continue to push their message constructively.

On the other hand, if the protests come off as a one-shot deal , as just an excuse to get out of class, giggling, rowdy and insincere, we’ll dismiss these young voices just as the older boys did, with our smugness and superiority intact.

There’s a lot at stake here. The students have our attention.

Hopefully, we’ll all learn something that moves this vital issue forward.

 

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