Beyond the sadness over the terrible event at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, still unimaginable, there was something that stood out last week. America’s kids are smart! Really smart! They’re smarter than the school reformers who have said ugly things against them for years!
President Trump referred to public schools in his Inaugural Address as an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.
Sitting with his crib notes at the White House, during his meeting about the shooting, with notes that had to remind him to say “I hear you,” I’d say that the claim our students are “deprived of knowledge” was totally debunked. The President could not face these students.
His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has called public schools a “dead end.” She can no longer cling to that discouraging call either.
For thirty years the political and corporate mouthpieces who want to make money on public education have condemned American students for not doing as well as students in other countries on tests.
They have intentionally painted a bleak picture of our public schools and teachers, but especially the students themselves. They have done all this while de-funding schools, harshly over-testing students, treating teachers unprofessionally, ignoring well-informed parents, and turning their schools over to nonprofit and for-profit charters. All of this was done to make money on the backs of students.
Tell me you weren’t touched by the courage—the grace and eloquence these students displayed in the face of their grief. The way they stood in front of the cameras, representing themselves with an understanding far beyond their years, speaking with self-confidence, dignity, not to mention knowledge. They owned this issue, not because they wanted it, but because it was cast upon them through no fault of their own.
Yet they spoke more confidently about it than any politician ever has! Even if you disagree with these students, you must admit that they are capable.
Did you ever once, as you watched them, wonder what kind of SAT scores they got? Did you question how many AP classes they took? Did you doubt that students like this would be college and career ready?
It didn’t take long for College Board President and Common Core aficionado David Coleman, who is not an educator, to write a congratulatory letter that these students were the outstanding bunch we saw due to the AP classes he sells. It apparently seemed like a good time to him to promote his program. Just remember, this is the same Coleman who said to students as you grow up in this world you come to realize people don’t really give a s—t about what you feel or what you think.
But America does care, and they are listening! The thoughts and ideas of these students matter! Many believe these teens have turned the gun issue around. Many companies are ending their ties to the NRA. And, while one can argue it wasn’t enough, Gov. Rick Scott has changed his stance on guns.
Not only were the students well-informed, they were nice! When the crowd reacted negatively to Sen. Marco Rubio at the CNN special, it was a student who said give him a chance, who thanked him for the courage to show up and face them.
Last week was all about loss, yes. But it was also about the goodness and strength of America’s youth, their willingness to listen without backing down. America learned these young people are not just alright, they’re brilliant!
And lest it go unnoticed, we also saw that a public high school that gives its students the arts winds up able to cling to some kind of beauty in all that despair. MSD students put together a sensitive, beautiful song called “Shine,” and they performed it for us to reflect on their pain and ours. We heard poetry that brought us to tears from the students whose lives were cut short.
The students spoke in ways no one expected. Those who want to believe our youth are incapable were shocked! They claimed they were actors and set up by the media. We know this isn’t true. No CNN reporter could match what these students said!
Nowhere has school reform been more prevalent than Florida, where students have watched a punitive group of legislators push a choice agenda. Where young children have been denied recess, and third graders have unnecessarily been made to feel like failures.
Don’t forget how children with disabilities have been treated abysmally. How many schools lack counselors and school psychologists? What kind of special education is offered students with emotional and behavioral disabilities?
For all the naysayers who have embraced student failure language, and myth of huge proportions, for those corporate shills that slam teachers as not being effective enough, or who should be replaced by computers, it must have been shocking last week to see the stuff America’s youth are really made of. It is just sad it had to come about the way it did.
There will be some who will claim it is because MSD was a wealthier school with engaged parents. But by saying that, they show that funding does matter. That public schools that address the needs of the students turn out students who are brilliant.
But even with a decently funded school in the best of all communities, MSD still could not save 17 lives. In the end it was the adults who failed them. They failed them like they fail the children hurt by gang violence, or the victims of other shootings.
The smart students from MSD and around the country have a clear message concerning gun violence. Now, America must continue to listen to them. The debate must continue. This country owes them that.