It's Cool to Walk Out of School

It's Cool to Walk Out of School

By David Himmel

Mr. Wilk was my 5th grade teacher. Mr. Wilk was a smoker. I waited all year for Mr. Wilk to cover smoking in Health class. I dog eared the corner of my health book to the side-by-side images of a healthy pink lung and a smoker’s black lung. I could not imagine how Mr. Wilk would teach his class of 10-year-olds about the negatives of smoking when we all knew he was a smoker himself. I didn’t know the word “hypocrite” at that time, but I knew that Mr. Wilk would be one.

Or, he could have easily said, “Don’t smoke. It’s bad for you. Look at David’s dog eared page in his health book. Keep your lung looking like the one on the left. Mine looks like the one on the right. It’ll probably kill me.”

 Abbott Middle School students participate in a walkout Thursday, Mar. 8 inspired by the #NeverAgain movement organized in the wake of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead. Photo lifted from Chicago Tribune, courtesy of Waukegan School District 60

Abbott Middle School students participate in a walkout Thursday, Mar. 8 inspired by the #NeverAgain movement organized in the wake of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.
Photo lifted from Chicago Tribune, courtesy of Waukegan School District 60

But Mr. Wilk never said that, or anything about smoking because Mr. Wilk skipped the subject all together. I don’t know why. I suppose because it would have been  awkward for him. It wouldn’t have been nearly as awkward, though, as the subject of the American Revolution or Civil Rights or the Vietnam War will be for today’s teachers who request their students do not walk out of school this morning.

Today's ENOUGH National School Walkout is set to be one our country's most historical, nuanced and, hopefully, most effective protests. It's always been the youth who are first to take to the streets but they've never been this young before. Middle schoolers are participating in the protest. Kids whose balls have just barely dropped and boobs have hardly come in are taking on a seriously heavy and grown up cause. And I say, hurray! These kids are going to understand true Americana first hand at this ever formative age.

Dissent is the crux of American democracy. It is the seed of our Great Nation. Protest is necessary to make the wheel squeak. It is not the solution but it has almost always led to getting grease applied where needed. Dissent and protest are the starting points for change when the elected servants aren’t serving their people well enough. And yeah, while voting is important, we all know that well-funded machines are hard to beat and once elected, the swine are able to do whatever they like, so protesting with our vote is a lot of horse shit. And what about the kids who can’t vote? Pubescent or not, kids aren't stupid, and they still have voices worth hearing. Public displays of dissent and protest like the ENOUGH National School Walkout shed light on things the Powers That Be keep shoving into the dark corners of the People’s misery.

Whether the walk out and subsequent marches and moments of silence, et. al. are in memory of the 17 killed in Parkland, Fla. last month, or out of anger at many local and state governments’, and the federal government’s inaction to find a reasonable solution for the gun issue or doing anything new at all to actively keep weapons of destruction out of the hands of maniacs, or to speak out against the vicious and idiotic reasoning of the NRA, to stand up and walk out of class is the most American thing anyone can do.

There is no better lesson in civics or history that can be taught. The walk out is like a field trip. It puts the kids in real world situations and gives them something tangible to relate all they’ve learned from the text book.

It’s comforting to know that there are schools working with walkout organizers to ensure peace and safety like Lake County high schools. District 117’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Brad Hubbard sees the walkout as a “great learning opportunity” for the students. Hubbard says that while the district does not necessarily endorse the walkout’s messages one way or the other, it is charged with “trying to provide the space for [students] to engage and participate. “We want students to be informed citizens, and more importantly we want them to be engaged citizens,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

Of course, schools can punish students for walking out. They are, after all, ditching class. And if a school happens to be a closed campus, there’s a potential additional strike against the students if they leave school grounds. But the punishment of what, an in-school suspension, a Saturday detention? It's hardly a price for acting on good intentions and participating in the actual freedom provided to us by the Constitution and all those graves in Arlington. You know, dead soldiers, the thing so many conservatives love to brag about: "They died for our freedom." Any schools that aim to punish or deter their students from participating in the protest will end up with egg on their face when these kids write the history books.

Only a crook, a hateful, fearful adult too stupid to recognize that the ENOUGH National School Walkout is about the safety of our children and protecting our future, would be opposed to this.

I’m pretty sure even Mr. Wilk would have supported this walkout. But I can’t confirm that. He died a few years ago. Lung cancer, I think.

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