Today's Topic



Stay in School

Natalia J. Garland

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High school students across the country have been protesting the reform proposal to make illegal immigration a felony crime. Anyway, that's what we have been viewing on television and reading in the newspapers. Today I will attempt to tell another side to the story, and to state my objections to students using school time for political demonstrations.

Young students belong in school. Monday through Friday, that's where they should be. Parents, teachers, and society count on minors being safely supervised on school grounds. Teachers and other school officials are responsible for their welfare. When students leave school without authorization, who is to blame if they get hurt? Parents, some of whom supported the student protests, would probably blame the school if their child broke his ankle or got hit by a car. When hundreds of students are determined to walk out of school, and they do so without warning, there is little that school officials can do to contain or protect them.

Those students who left their classes disrupted their education and the steady flow of the school day for their classmates. The protesting students were not there to turn in homework, take tests, or participate in class projects. Those who were suspended as a consequence of their actions will have a gap in their day-to-day studies. When you get behind in academic work (normally due to illness), it is difficult to catch up. If you are already struggling in math class, for example, you might become so frustrated that you will never catch up.

Exactly who were the student protestors? What grades were they in? I would not be surprised if many of them were high school freshmen. Seniors have much more to lose than freshmen. A college-bound senior cannot afford a suspension for disruptive behavior. A freshman or sophomore might feel there is plenty of time to absorb any consequences for breaking rules. A freshman could even repeat the year, and still look forward to graduation and a job.

Although I believe some of the student protestors were serious and dedicated to a cause, I expect that some of them took advantage of the situation to ditch classes. Judging by what I saw on television, the protests had the aura of a football pep rally. I also expect that some students joined the protest marches due to peer pressure. It must have been extremely difficult for some of them not to go along with their friends. Peer pressure was probably further complicated by a need for cultural identity and loyalty.

Yet, many students remained in school. In fact, it appears that more students stayed in class than left class. Most news reports have estimated protestor numbers between 50 and 400 at each of the various schools. That means most students were NOT protesting. This is the real story, and it has been neglected by television and newspapers. Most students, including those in predominantly Hispanic schools, were in class and fulfilling their education requirements. It seems logical that these students formed a different kind of relationship with their teachers and classmates than the protesting students. The unreported question is: what went on in the classroom during the day(s) of marching? Was there learning? Camaraderie? Understanding? Bonding?

There are alternate ways to express political opinions and promote change. High school students might consider the following.

  • Study American history and government.
  • Study immigration law.
  • Analyze the complex issues of the current immigration situation: political, social, and psychological.
  • Write letters to your elected officials. (Learn grammar and the skill of persuasive writing in your English class.)
  • Organize protest marches after school or on Saturday.
  • Find a trusted adult and discuss any anxieties you have about your future or about the wellbeing of your family members.
  • Seek professional counseling if you need it.

Nobody in America wants to deprive young people of the freedom of speech or the right to lawful assembly. Students, however, must follow the rules and respect legitimate authorities and caregivers. The immigration issue is highly emotional. Some of these students possibly have parents or grandparents who are not American citizens. Some may themselves have been born outside America. Emotional reaction is understandable, but it must be transformed into effective communication. The majority of high school students were in class last week, preparing for their future through education. That's the huge and hidden story. (Written 04/03/06)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2006 Natalia J. Garland