With all due respect to the high school students involved and the Manteca Unified administrators that brokered the deal, an alternative activity for a 17-minute brunch didn’t exactly constitute “walking out of class” to protest guns and the slaughter of students on school campuses.
Wednesday’s local participation with an estimated 1 million high school students nationally was more a sign of “we care” than an act of civil disobedience in a bid to keep America’s attention focused on gun violence. In order to have disobedience you have to disobey, Manteca Unified administrators were successful in reducing the 17-minute “walkout” into essentially a school sanctioned rally.
There is a different tune playing for April 20 when the push is on for students across the nation to not simply walk out of class but walkout of school to presumably take to the streets following the lead of the Chicago 7. For those students who commented Wednesday that since they were born they’ve never know a time without school shootings given April 20 marks the 19th anniversary of Columbine, the Chicago 7 was not a rock band but they certainly played a role in rocking politics as usual.
District Superintendent Jason Messer and the rest of the Manteca Unified administration have a legal and ethical duty to keep schools open and safe for the expressed purpose of learning. They managed to come up with a way with buy-in of student leadership to deliver 100 percent on that obligation despite the perception more than a few have on social media that the school district allowed an organized student walkout of classes. Reworking block schedules to shift the brunch break so it occurred at 10 a.m. and was long enough for the 17 minute length reflecting the 17 deaths at the Parkland high school was a stroke of genius. However, it also effectively diluted the supposed message that students are willing to stand up to “the system” to apply pressure to change gun laws.
Manteca Unified and other California school districts can ill-afford an all-day walkout on April 20 as they would lose roughly $62 per student in average fail attendance funding from the state for unexcused absences. If 3,500 high school students — not quite half of the district’s ninth through 12th graders walked out— that would be $217,000 or roughly the amount of money to fund two teaching positions with benefits included.
The district was able to allow students to exercise free speech rights on Wednesday without anyone suffering negative consequences. That balancing act goes away with an all-day walk-out.
But here’s the rub: If the expressed goal is to keep the need to address the cause of school shootings front and center, a walkout has “legs” in terms of really getting attention as opposed to a much more civil and preordained version of a flash mob.
And while some students may be willing to go the all-day walkout once a month that some are calling for in a bid to get tougher gun laws, they are spinning their wheels.
The drive for the wholesale gutting of the Second Amendment is at the very least a pipe dream. At worst it is akin to doctors treating a patient with a broken leg and who is profusely bleeding by only setting the broken leg and ignoring that they are losing a pint of blood every 5 minutes.
The reasons why all of the gun laws passed after all of the mass shootings have done such a wonderful job are two-fold. First, when existing laws aren’t being enforced what makes anyone think the answer is passing even more laws? Second, and most important, the most effective solutions are holistic.
That is why local high school students who forsook brunch are right that they can be part of the solution. And that solution must be finding a way so their peers do not become outcasts and anti-social. High school shooters — mass killings as well as the all-too-frequent garden variety solo shootings — have either been current students or recent students.
Trying to dial back on guns to a degree that it actually would put a dent in mass shootings in a country that already has 310 million guns is about as do-able as scaling back “entertainment violence” in video games, YouTube videos, TV shows, and movies that can in some people play to the lowest primal urges and desensitize one to civil behavior.
It would be nice to think if we could pass the right gun laws and make sure those that are truly mentally ill are helped school shootings will go the way of school class sweaters.
The fact the high school mass murder shooters are all young males should be the first clue about where we are headed. Young males have had access to guns — that was probably a lot easier as well — long before Columbine. And while it is true you can do more damage today with a semi-automatic or automatic weapon, the fact mass school shootings are more a thing of the Internet Age and a growing number of young males have little or no positive male mentoring and sometimes have precious few people — peers and adults — that are there for them with an ear to bend, it should be clear the solution requires much more than demanding the passage of words strung together as legislation.
While it’s nice to show the world they care, walkouts or brunch boycotts aren’t the heavy lifting that we all have to do.