Walk Up AND Out!
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
American students were in the news this week for walking out of their classrooms in protest of gun violence and school shootings. Another group gained viral fame with the Walk Up movement, in response, which basically was saying to walk up to people who seem isolated and try to be more compassionate. Many people got very upset at the Walk Up proponents, just as many had gotten upset at the Walk Out camp, which was probably to be expected. Schools, violence, guns, political acts; all of these elicit a great deal of emotion.
For me, I see the value in both, but more value in one of them. Let's dig in a bit to American politics, psychology, and people who mean well.
Let's start with the Walk Out crew. First of all, congratulations to the students for having the courage to act on their convictions. Democracies only function when you have politically active populations, and for far too long now, American "democracy" (yes, I know it's a Republic, don't be pedantic) has coasted by on very low voter participation and engagement leading Princeton to release a study showing that America now should be classified as an oligarchy.
But here's the thing: I don't see how Walk Out will change anything. How will students walking out of their classrooms change the DC vs. Heller Supreme Court decision that basically walls off the crazy definition of the 2nd Amendment we have now where the right to personal gun ownership is veritably unassailable? How will students being more politically active (even if they stay engaged, which is a big "IF" in my book) change a political system based on fundraising where going against the NRA is pretty much political suicide because of the money they bring to the table? How will students walking out change the fact that America has a LONG historical relationship and mythology revolving around guns and gun ownership entwined with the very fabric of the country?
Here's my problem, I just don't see how this equation works:
Step 1: students walk out in protest
Step 2: ???????
Step 3: real gun control overcoming all the previously stated factors.
What the heck is step 2?
Yes yes, I know that students walking out in the past has brought about political change . But here's the sad news, the US and how its politics work has changed since 1968. That was 50 years ago, and the powers that be have gotten great at ignoring protest movements since then (see Iraq War #2 for evidence).
Now, I could easily be totally wrong about this. Someone far smarter than me may have already figured out how to take the political impulse of a non-voting block and turn it into real political change. Maybe that someone is you! Please respond in the comments if you've figured this one out, and I'll happily get on board!
Now onto the "Walk Up" side.
First, I think the way the original teacher who made the poster above framed it as an either/or thing is totally wrong. It poisoned the debate from the start by making a false dichotomy where there doesn't need to be one when she said walk up NOT out. Those two courses of action didn't need to be in opposition to one another. It also comes off as a way to keep kids from protesting and being politically active when it's framed like that, which just seems to diminish the kids and their desire not to be shot.
But I also think she was right, for several reasons.
The first is that I work in a school. Every day. I see the social interactions. Every day. I've been teaching in Middle Schools and High Schools for 13 years at this point. I'm not the most experienced teacher, but I think 13 years on one side of the desk is enough to get some perspective on how students treat one another.
And let me tell you, being the outcast can break a kid. Not every kid, and not all social outcasts go on to be violent. Just like not every bully or bullied kid becomes a shooter. But sometimes, the wrong stars align and social exclusion can trigger the worst in us.
And it's not just me saying this. Study after study has shown that mass shooters are often social outcasts. This seems far more common than mental illness, which only tends to cover between 20-25% of mass shooters. And for a lot of people, it's this social exclusion, along with easy access to stupidly high powered killing machines, that creates the circumstances that perpetuate these awful, tragic events.
So that's why I get the teacher's impulse who came up with Walk Up, and I understand why it spread so quickly. I understand the causal link between making kids feel less excluded and maybe having that kid not become the next famous headline because they don't feel totally disconnected from society. It's also immediate and individual and something we all can do.
At the end of the day, I'm for anything that makes schools and society a kinder, more compassionate place. I'm for fostering social bonds, especially for students who are on the edges, the ones who need it most. I think, at heart, that's probably what motivated the teacher who made the "Walk Up" poster.
Think of a time you felt excluded. Did someone come to you, reach out to you, bring you back? I'll bet you remember that person very fondly, like a life preserver in a storm. Don't you want more life preservers out there? The world is a tough place. Schools can be the toughest. Why not try to make them better and more compassionate?
It's not about victim blaming. It's about preventing the next tragedy, so that there are fewer grieving parents and friends, fewer blood stained hallways. I think at heart, both movements are about that. That's why both have a place and should be respected.
Walk up, AND out.
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