By Nancy Dennis
Teaching has been my passion for many years now. Time brings changes, some much harder to embrace than others. Once the only drill we had in school was a fire drill. Little explanation was needed and these drills were almost welcomed on warm fall days.
Now I have to teach my students to crowd into a cubby room while I push a bookcase against the door, keep them quiet, and wait for a police officer to open the door. While discussing this drill and its procedures, I was shocked to hear the scenarios these eight year olds imagined that would warrant a call of, “Lock down, lock down,” on the loudspeaker. One child didn’t hear the word, “drill,” and worriedly asked his teacher if this was, “the real thing.” Should our babies ever have to know about such real things?
Yet, our children aren’t imagining impossible scenes. Instead they are recounting horrendous realities they see on the news far too often. A place that should be safe instead makes them wary.
We weren’t taught about bullying when I was young. Now, from the earliest years we teach children how to recognize bullying, how to handle anger – theirs and others, how to be upstanders, not bystanders. As I teach government to my third graders, I take pride in letting them know what an amazing place they live in. It’s a place where they can respectfully share their opinions without repercussions. So few places in the world not only allow but also nurture this freedom. We talk about the responsibility we have to be informed and to change our world through our actions.
Today I was brought to tears when I learned many of our high school students will take part in the National School Walkout in support of the students and families in Parkland, Florida and to make clear their beliefs that school should be safe from violence, particularly gun violence. I was incredibly proud to work for a district that supports its students’ freedom of speech and assembly.
I was appalled when I saw so many school districts across the country threaten punitive measures if their students take part in this 17-minute walkout. They cite schools as a place of learning. What learning are they referring to? Is it learning to turn a blind eye to current events? What type of learning ignores empathy in favor of a 17-minute lecture? What type of citizens do they hope they are raising when our basic Constitutional rights are tossed aside in favor of placid silence? I understand the concerns, truly I do. There is understandable fear. It is a great responsibility having young people to keep safe each day. Wait. Isn’t that just what these students are promoting? Safety in their schools is their cause too. Wouldn’t working together proactively be a much more important lesson than requiring students to be passive onlookers?
I sincerely hope that many of the students feeling the need to make a difference, to be a voice, an advocate, an active community member and citizen were students who once learned that their voices mattered in my classroom. May they feel supported in choosing to take a stand so that they will always be the people we can count on to make our world a place where action fuels changes. They give me hope of a better future, a safe one for my grandchildren because they wouldn’t give up.
I am so proud of my school district and proud of our students. Thank you for being upstanders, not bystanders! May we all learn from you!
Nancy Dennis of Angola worries about what children are required to learn.