Smells Like Teen Spirit

March 14, 2018

By Joel Sawyer

I was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – to notice an almost perfect correlation today between people’s attitude on #NationalWalkoutDay and their existing attitudes on gun control.

If you already favored gun control, shame on the districts for punishing these brave souls. If you’re against it, shame on any school administrator or elected official who supported them.

You’re both wrong.

From the standpoint of the schools’ policies and actions, there should be ZERO difference between students walking outside for 17 minutes to protest gun violence, than if they walked outside for 17 minutes to demand more chicken nuggets on Thursdays.

Now, I’m certainly not equating gun violence with chicken nuggets. One kills people and the other is delicious. And we’ve talked a lot about gun violence and gun control solutions on the show, most recently here and here. In principle, I agree with the students on the issue.

But the “why” behind the action simply doesn’t matter in this case, or at least it shouldn’t. Whatever the penalty or consequence for standing up and leaving class for 17 minutes without permission normally is, that’s what it should be in this case. I find it just as appalling that some districts are actively encouraging these walkouts as I do that others have threatened students with punishment that far exceeds the infraction.

I’m a big believer in free speech, but that doesn’t mean speech is consequence-free. Some of the most important expressions of free speech that have provoked the most monumental changes in our country have had serious, in some cases deadly, consequences for the protesters.

And because free speech is so important, the bigger principle at play here is making sure we don’t put school employees in the position of picking and choosing speech. If next week a few hundred students decided to walk out to demand an end to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Donald Trump, would you be on the same side you were today?

In most cases, I suspect not.

That’s why the only policy we can adopt – no matter how much we agree or disagree with an issue – is consistency. As educators and administrators, you have no rational choice other than to treat these students the same way you would if it were chicken nuggets they were demanding.

Then as a parent, when they get home from school, high-five them or ground them as you see fit.

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