Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Student Protesters Are Teaching Us Something; Shame On Those Who Think They Are Too Smart to Listen

NewarkSchoolProtest
Shortly after the Parkland school shooting, Jonah Goldberg penned an essay whose title speaks for itself: "Parkland kids can protest, but they don't know what they are talking about."

A few days ago, Rick Sanotrum piled on, saying:

They took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn't take action to say, "How do I, as an individual, deal with this problem? How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to a shooter?"... Those are the kind of things where you can take it internally, and say, "Here's how I'm going to deal with this. Here's how I'm going to help the situation," instead of going and protesting and saying, "Oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me."

Both claim to take the mature high ground with brutal honesty.  Goldberg argues that kids lack the knowledge and wisdom for us to listen to them.  I think they could both go for a good dose of humility.  And I don't reserve that judgment for them alone.  I pointed it at myself recently and finally admitted that no matter how much wisdom I think I have to offer, real wisdom comes from acknowledging how much we have to learn from a fresh set of eyes--from young people.

Case in point.  When students first began protesting the fact that names like Woodrow Wilson appear on a building at Princeton and William Saunders on a building at UNC, I had my misgivings.  Yes, the students were correct about the history--these individuals have racist legacies--but the details of the buildings matter.  Was the name placed there to honor the racist legacy?  Was it put there because the family actually donated the money for the building?  Was it because of the alum's political fame?  Is there even a continuing message being sent if no one knows who the person is?

I thought the building names should not be conflated with confederate memorials, at least not on a wholesale level.  Confederate memorials tend to come with racist motivations and and continuing symbolism that is distinct from building names.  Notwithstanding the analysis I could offer on that point, I came to realize that I am probably too old to have an opinion on what young people do or do not protest about.  I will probably get it wrong.  It is the youth who push us to see the world anew--more clearly--not purported wise elders.  "Wise elders" should offer perspective, but forceful direction is probably more a hindrance than help. 

In retrospect, we can now see that those protesting students elevated a conversation that would have been missed without them.  They forced a reevaluation of numerous assumptions on main campus.  We owe them thanks.  And we probably owe them deference in the future.

While I agree with the students now protesting gun laws, that is not why I am listening to them.  And I am not encouraging them so as to forward my own agenda.  I tend to think they would demand a much strong set of gun restrictions than I myself would recommend.  I am listening because I have something to learn, not teach.

As I wrote two weeks ago, a student completely reframed the way I thought about these shootings with the simple statement: "We can’t be hunted.”  Were it not for her, I would still be thinking in terms of the normal platitudes.  Clearly, many others still are.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2018/03/student-protesters-are-teaching-us-something-shame-on-those-who-think-they-are-too-smart-to-listen.html

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Comments

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