Editorial: Teachers, nationally and locally, applaud students’ protest of gun violence

  • Somerville High School junior Megan Barnes marches with others during a student walkout at the school in Somerville, Mass. A large-scale, coordinated demonstration is planned for Wednesday, March 14, when organizers have called for a 17-minute school walkout nationwide to protest gun violence. AP FILE PHOTO

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 has mobilized students like none other. In response to the student outcry in Florida, that state’s Legislature has just passed new gun control laws that raise the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21, bans bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns, and mandates a three-day waiting period to buy guns.

Here at home, high school students announced they are joining a planned national school walkout, a protest led by students demanding action against gun violence, on Wednesday, one month after the Parkland school shooting. And they are doing it with the support of teachers and school administrators.

“Civic engagement is one of the most important lessons we can all learn,” said Mohawk Trail Regional High School Co-Principal Lynn Dole, “and I want to work with my student leadership to have them be able to participate in this nationwide dialogue.”

Students will remain outside their building for 17 minutes, in a nod to the 17 people who were killed that day in Florida.

Officials from Greenfield High School, Mohawk Trail Regional, Pioneer Valley Regional, Franklin County Technical Regional and Frontier Regional schools have all expressed their support for students who may wish to join this action.

“They actually are being the voice of change and really are being the advocates for something different in this country,” GHS Principal Karin Patenaude said.

At Pioneer, Principal Jean Bacon said students are “thinking about not only the nationwide conversation but thinking about what kinds of conversations we need to have at the local community to help prevent us from having this kind of violence on any campuses.”

Of course, not all students think in lock-step. As liberal as Massachusetts is purported to be, Franklin County is rural and can be expected to have many students from gun-owning families who are not clamoring for restrictions on the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. Dole said students need to recognize that their “peers have diverse feelings that they need to be conscious of as well.”

All of this adds up to genuine dialogue that acknowledges a range of feelings on the complex and divisive issue of gun control.

Today’s support from teachers and staff for a student walk-out is a far cry from the response many readers one, two or more generations removed may recall. Back in the day, student demonstrators were more likely to be met with punitive measures from school administrators than expressions of encouragement.

“It’s a learning opportunity,” Franklin Tech Principal Shawn Rickan said, a sentiment that reflects the new paradigm of civics education.

As Frontier 11th-grade student Johnathan Creque said, “We’re the ones getting shot. We’re going to make a change.”

Students, teachers and administrators seem to be on the same page of this textbook.