The Students Are Watching

Susan McCormack
March 27, 2018

After the February 14, 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, courageous students who just endured the unthinkable are stepping up to create a movement for change and hold the adults accountable.

Some adults are already behaving badly.  It is easy to find comments on social media criticizing the students who are stepping forward; attacking their activism, their ideas for reform; questioning their facts.  Some suggest that the claim that eighteen mass shootings have happened in the first two months of 2018 is an inflated number.  How many mass shootings would be acceptable?  Ten?  Five?  I’m sure the students from Parkland, Florida would say zero.  Now, you might expect this essay to veer into a discussion about gun control, but that’s not where I’m going.  

Instead, I want to focus on what the adults can do to support our students in their efforts to create change.  First, let’s remember that the students from Parkland Florida are not just brave, they are also traumatized.  The last thing they need is to be attacked for their views and the solutions they are putting forward.  They need to be listened to.  If we don’t agree,  let’s listen harder.  If we have other ideas for how change might occur, lets share them in a respectful way that doesn’t demean someone else’s point of view.  As one of the students from Florida put it , “we can't get into any more debates. We need discussion.”

In fact, we need a dialogue; a “conversation with a center, not sides.”   I know it is hard for us to listen to one another.  We quickly become polarized and closed off to possibilities.  We must do better.  Like many of our  most vexing problems, eliminating mass shootings is going to require authentic conversations and multiple approaches.   Some actions might be fairly straightfoward to implement.  Others may be more nuanced, and still others will require the kind of creative thinking that is not possible unless we really listen to each other.

Let’s support students and their allies as they demand legislative action.  At the same time, let’s remember that students and adults can also leverage our power and passion to create the change we want to see in our own neighborhoods, schools and communities.  All we need to begin is a real grown-up conversation; a conversation that doesn’t revert to tired old ideological debates, or simplistic all or nothing thinking.  One that is bold enough to wade through the discomfort of facing the sad realities of our present situation.

Whether we are going to be marching with students or talking with people close to home, here are four simple questions to get the conversation going:

  1. Why do we think school shootings happen in our country?

  2. What can students do to help change this?

  3. What can communities do to help change this?

  4. What can lawmakers do to help change this?

Once we’ve entered into these conversations, let’s look to our students.  They have the know how to organize and share our collective ideas with the world. Let’s see what rises to the surface.  Let’s identify areas where consensus is emerging.  Let’s identify the energy and will to create the change we need.  We can do this.  The students are watching.  


Susan McCormack is a Senior Associate for Everyday Democracy.

This article was originally posted on the Creative Discourse website. It was reposted with permission.

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