We raise our children to be obedient, to follow laws, to be respectful of their elders, to try hard in school, to volunteer, to join clubs and try out for teams. In all of these, there is an unwritten law of respect we assume they will follow. We assume that they will, for the most part, believe the adults who serve as role models and that they will take their advice and follow their lead.
Personally, this model feels good to me. I’m a rule follower. As a long-time educator, I was lucky to be part of a school that had a staff who tried hard to create rules that didn’t seem too outrageous, even to the free spirits among us. By and large our students listened to their parents, and when they came to school, they listened to the adults who stood in loco parentis, in place of parents; their teachers.
What then has gone wrong in Florida this past week? These students are not behaving at all in the way we would expect and it is causing some people to feel very, very uncomfortable. I personally, feel like standing up and cheering. What a horrible thing to feel like doing when these students have just buried 15 of their friends, one coach and one teacher.
What these surviving students have decided to do is to not play the part that they have been given; the part of obedient students, who don’t think for themselves but rather parrot the voices of the adults around them. If they were to follow their given parts, they would attend funeral services, listen to adults as they are reminded that this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue, and that a good solution to the problem is to arm their teachers so that next time….
But these students are NOT playing their assigned parts. They are showing the world that if the part of a teenager is to follow the lead of adults who have badly under-served them, then they would rather not be in this play.
These incredibly articulate, well spoken, passionate grieving students have somehow found the internal strength, no doubt in great part thanks to their strong families, school and community, to put into action what they have been taught but have not been expected to utilize. I’m guessing that these students, like many I have taught, have all been taught to stand up for themselves in the small things; in student things. Things like what clothing styles should be permitted at schools and what washrooms students should use. But God bless these students. They have figured out that the skills they have been taught to use in ‘student matters’ are transferable! And transferring them they are! And transforming their world they will.
These brave students are writing a brand-new script. They refuse to play the part of subordination to adults. They refuse to play the old part of being seen but not heard. They refuse to speak softly and to defer to people who are older in years. They choose instead to stand in the knowledge of what happened to them and to tell their story, whether or not it makes the powers that be uncomfortable. They choose to point out that unless serious change is made, their story will happen again, and again and again and they are not willing to stand idly by and wait for it to happen.
These students choose to demand action. They choose to activate their right to demonstrate and to free speech. They choose not to always use polite language, but they use language that is clear and whose meaning cannot be misunderstood. These students choose to show their feelings and to demand to be heard. It is as if these students have seen OZ, the wizard who turned out to be not nearly as powerful as everyone had believed. The OZ in this case is the system, and they are choosing to demand that the system be changed. This system is the same one that told them that they simply need to be good students, to be respectful and the adults will take care of things. Well, the curtain has been thrown back and these students now know that they hold much more power than they had been led to believe.
They are planning a march on March 24th. They have been reminded that they are expected to be in school. Their response? Make me.
These kids did not choose to grow up over night. But since that is exactly what happened to them on February 14th, they have decided that grow up they will. They will be voters in a very few years, some of them within this very year, and as a group they hold incredible power. I for one, am sending my support to them as they fight this very important battle.
I love that they have recognized that they can write their own script, and that by doing so, will write a more interesting, more powerful, more timely, more current, more important story than any that could have been written for them. With support from the same families and school and community that gave them the skills to be ‘good students’ they will now march forward and make the changes that the rest of the adults have been wringing their hands about for far too long.
Perhaps under the leadership of these strong, courageous, grieving students we will finally believe it when we say, ‘Never Again’.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What part am I playing now, and what part would I rather play?’
Elizabeth is a passionate life-long educator. She has moved from educating students in schools to educating all ages of people about how to use their lives to create what they want. Elizabeth creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups. She provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to take on whatever ‘part’ is calling your name.