Thursday, March 15, 2018

Walking Out and Talking It Out

Okay, so I know I said I wasn't going to post for a couple of weeks, but this is a) super timely and b) not actually book related, so, you know, here it is. I'll be back in a couple of weeks though. It's like the days when I have a substitute, but I'm at a meeting in the building, and kids freak out if they see me, so I tell them, "I'm not really here."  

It was second period on March 14th, around 9:40 in the morning. I was trying to keep students engaged in my reading class by having them generate questions they had about the school walkouts planned nationwide, then reading a variety of articles to see if they could find their answers.

“It’s stuuuupid,” snarled a young man named Connor*. Three others started to shout him down. Rather miraculously, they all let me shush them and set some parameters.

“We can talk about this. We can have different opinions about it, and we can explain why we think what we do. But we’re not going to call names or be rude to each other. You are all entitled to your own opinion, but I want to be sure you’ve gathered some information and done some thinking first.”

“Can I talk first?” asked Connor. Knowing as I did that his point of view was furthest from mine, I figured it would be diplomatic to let him say his piece. 

“Okay, but can you rephrase how you started that?”

He nodded seriously and said, “Okay. I disagree with the walk-out,” (pointed look at me to be sure I’d clocked his more academic language) “because I don’t think it is really going to change anything. I think a lot of kids are walking out just to get out of class. And the second amendment says we can have guns.”

Other hands shot up, and a quick side debate settled who would get to speak in what order. Most of the kids with strong opinions supported the walk-out, and were able to explain why. Honoring the dead. Ending school shootings. Nobody needs army-style weapons in their home. Better background checks. When Connor argued that we already have background checks, they told him that there are “black market” deals and other situations where that doesn’t apply. “Can you buy guns online?” they asked. I could tell they were a little iffy on their rebuttal, and suggested they do some research to find out what the deal is with background checks.

I also pointed out the fact that in the list of links I’d provided them with, there was one article about an armed teacher who’d been able to keep a student from shooting up the school, and another about the teacher who’d just yesterday accidentally discharged his weapon at school. Connor started spluttering again. “What kind of idiot…” he began, and I directed him to the article itself.  Read it and find out for yourself what happened; don’t make assumptions based on your knee jerk reactions, and don’t rely on someone else—like your teacher who would quit before she’d carry a gun to school-- to fill you in on the details.

He read. The others read. Some were reading about the civil rights of students, and some were reading about different school districts’ varying responses to the planned walk-out. Another boy put his head together with Connor to pore over the article about the accidental gunshot during a gun safety demonstration.

Connor started telling his partner what he thought. “See, it’s not the guns, it’s the people, and it’s gun safety. So what we should do is you should still be able to buy guns and everything, but you should have to go get re-certified every year.”  He noticed me listening, and started addressing me too. “And, like your brain isn’t fully developed until you’re 25, right?” I concurred, maybe a bit too enthusiastically.  “So you should be able to go huntin’ and stuff before then, but you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun on your own before then. But if you’re like in the military or police of something, you wouldn’t have to get tested as often, because you’d be really well trained. But you should still get tested every five or ten years, because sometimes people’s brains start to get messed up, or maybe you’ve forgotten some stuff.”

I was nodding at him as he thought out loud.  “Can I tell them what I think now?” he asked.  I pulled the class back together and told them that after doing some more reading and thinking, Connor had an idea to share. There was some eye rolling from the kids who’d been arguing with him earlier, but I gave them that teacher eye, and they let him talk.

He didn’t get that far before Kayla*, a girl who matches Connor in her eagerness to share her opinions on everything, interrupted him. “See, you actually agree with us! Because I know people like to hunt and stuff, and I’m not saying they should lose their guns. I just don’t want people to keep getting killed.”

Connor nodded. “They just need to get better about being safe with their guns. I think if they had to go in every year and get a complete check and safety test, it would really help.”

Kayla countered with, “Well, I still think they don’t need assault weapons, but basically, yeah, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.”

I teach kids who struggle academically. Yet they were able to not only explain their point of view, they were able to listen to someone with a different take on things, to assimilate new information, and to find common ground. Connor was one of four students who stayed in my class during the walk-out, because he felt the focus was still on restricting gun access, not improving gun safety. Kayla and the other kids who’d been arguing with him walked out. But they did so with a far greater measure of respect that I would have imagined when they came into class all fired up. It was almost like they could believe that someone could disagree with you yet still have decent values.

KIDS THESE DAYS. They just might save us all.

*Names have been changed.


  1. That's awesome that you used the time for a productive discussion with those who chose to abstain. That's what's missing most of the time these days - productive discussions. It's all about shouting your opinion and not listening to anything the other side has to say. --sigh--

  2. I have absolute faith in the younger generations right now, largely because teachers like yourself (and some parents) are ensuring they learn how to think critically, not rely on reactionary emotions. So THANK YOU, because that's the only thing that's going to save us and advance our species. And I'm also glad you had kids across the spectrum on this, because learning respectful debate and open thinking is a necessary life skill that isn't actually taught anywhere (except by those, like you, who have the initiative to do so within your classroom setting). I like Connor's idea (I don't think it will end gun violence, but presumably it would reduce the number of accidental shooting deaths that occur each year)- after all, we have to get re-certified to drive a car.

  3. Loved this. Thank you for sharing.

  4. What an awesome teaching moment!


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