Life beyond a classroom

Opinion: Editorials

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There's more to learning than sitting in a classroom. Our young people are learning the power of their voices in what is a growing, but certainly not out of control, number of public protests. 

We saw this last week with the Global Climate Strike, as a small number of Riverside-Brookfield High School students walked out of the school to participate — some going downtown to join more than 1,000 people who rallied there, and a small number also walked out during a lunch period to march around the football field and voice their protest for a lack of action on climate change on the part of adults charged with their protection.

Yes, this particular student walkout was not well planned in advance, but school officials caught wind of it early enough to call its leader into a meeting involving top administrators. Putting our 18-year-old selves in that position, we'd guess the student was feeling mighty leaned on.

Anyone participating in the walkout was hit with a "cut" absence and seniors had their final exam waiver revoked. Not surprisingly, seniors stayed away from the walkout. Those who called in sick to attend the downtown protest, we assume, were not disciplined.

School administrators should expect more, not less, calls for walkouts and protests from students in their charge in the future, and they need to find a way to equitably allow for their voices to be heard.

Walkouts were certainly not a feature of campus life back in the 1980s and 1990s, when more school administrators were attending high school, and we're sure they're unsure how to grapple with this phenomenon.

At the same time, when they were students, they weren't forced to face existential questions that have resulted from their generation's failure to address global climate change and issues such as gun violence on school campuses.

These aren't children behaving badly; they are young people who recognize their lives and futures are at stake, and they're outraged that adults have been so derelict in their duty to future generations.

Local school administrators — and this should be a policy discussion at the school board level to send this message — need to recognize that this isn't necessarily flippant attention-seeking.

These students have a message they want adults to hear, and the response shouldn't be threatening discipline for making administrators' job a little more difficult. Moreover, the message is one administrators ought to embrace on behalf of their students and their students' futures.

During the last election, at least one candidate wanted to put this kind of discussion front and center. This is the opportunity to do that, and that direction needs to come from the elected officials in charge of setting that course.

Times are different, and young people are alarmed at what their futures might hold. Adults need to start taking them seriously.

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