Teach the Children Well

Random Lengths News | March 31, 2006
Congress shall make no law…. abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment to the US Constitution ratified December 15,1791 commonly known as the Bill of Rights

There has been a lot of public hand wringing lately by the “Authorities” over public school students choosing to walkout of classes in protest of the anti-immigration bill HR-4437 sponsored by Sensenbrenner and King in the US Congress. Even Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proclaimed that the truancy laws will be fully enforced, with punishments and fines meted out to those who skip-out on school to exercise their essential right of “redress of grievances.” This seems odd considering he was once the leader of the local American Civil Liberties Union, the infamous ACLU, which is sworn to protect the civil liberties of all citizens with the first amendment being the most cherished. Antonio took part in the historic 1968 student walkout that is now the subject of an HBO film, directed by Edward James Olmos. The police, politicians and school administrators have taken an awkward at best hard-line on this because they lose their State ADA (average daily attendance) funding with every child missing from role call. This, however, is cloaked in the acceptable parental concerns of safety (and perhaps) civility of these demonstrations, but what comes first?

UTLA president AJ Duffy takes the two prong approach saying, that the teachers union, “Applauds the students who are participating in civil disobedience in protest… [what] the students are doing is an activity as American as the Constitution.” However in the next breath he says that the students taking to the streets are, “ a threat to the safety of students and our city.” And I would add to the authority of the school to maintain discipline controls, which at best seems somewhat tenuous, on a daily basis. These protests are straight from the heart, passionate responses, to the oppressions of a government gone wrongly out of control with little or no checks and balances to what is either right or fair or ultimately Constitutional, and the students have every right and liberty to protest. Not only do the school districts or the city or anyone else not have the right to prevent them. I would argue that they don’t have the right to determine the time or place of such demonstrations, except when it comes to pedestrian safety laws and violence. These are the laws that the authorities should be enforcing, not truancy. Why? Because safety of our students is important and we should teach them how to safely organize and protest for political redress, that’s what responsible elders would do.

However the authorities will take every opportunity when confronted with an assault on their reason for being, to squash dissent, even to the extent of enlisting the Unions and the press, like the Daily Breeze, to quell it! It is perhaps too forward thinking, but perhaps not, to suggest that UTLA and the progressive unions of the Harbor Area be enlisted to actually teach our students how to protest. They are uniquely qualified to do so. Our schools should take this specific point in history to diverge from the State mandated straight-jacket-curriculum to teach a course on living history, using the life and works of such historic figures as Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Mother Jones, Upton Sinclair, Harry Bridges, Martin Luther King and obviously Caesar Chavez on whose birthday the protests started. Offer the students a place on every campus to organize and assemble peaceably, to speak out uncensored on their issues of dissent and to promote the legitimate uses of democracy rather than have them blindly utter the pledge of allegiance every morning without having a clue to the meaning of “liberty and justice for all.”

Clearly these student protesters made a few mistakes in pursuing their right to dissent and they should be taught, not tormented, for their actions practicing civil disobedience against an oppressive regime. But just like the student who has never taken a class in trigonometry you can’t expect them to pass the first test in that subject no matter how hard they try. So we as the parents, elders, mentors and leaders of this community should teach our children in both words and actions the meaning of responsible dissent. Every day in school, they get lessons in how to obey instructions. However well intentioned, however important the subject matter, these are lessons suited to an authoritarian culture. How often do they get lessons in democracy? In self-organization, self-direction and self-governance?

The LAPD for the most part did a reasonable job in trying to keep our young people safe without causing bigger enforcement problems, the Sheriffs were less so, but both should have declined, on legal grounds, to cite demonstrators for truancy. Our schools could have immediately called in teachers to monitor these wildcat demonstrations, possibly even taking attendance and urging students to maintain safe and orderly conduct. They could have laid the foundation, out in the streets, for deeply engaging discussions when classes resume. They could even have given out homework assignments, studying the 1968 Walkouts or writing a paper comparing their own demonstrations with those going on simultaneously in Paris, or perhaps even how this compares to the Boston Tea Party. The walkouts we’re witnessing are the ultimate “teachable moment,” and unfortunately, once again, our schools and those who preside over them have failed to recognize and take advantage of a tremendous gift, misperceiving it as a threat. And that, unfortunately, is the lesson the authorities are teaching: we see your thirst for democracy and self-determination as a threat.

It’s time to help these young people learn the lessons of empowerment through democratic self-determination and political action– it’s something we should remind all our leaders, particularly our President– that liberty starts at home.

Random Lengths News

Founded in 1979 as a counterbalance to the conservative, corporate- owned daily paper, Random Lengths News draws on the rich history of the Los Angeles Harbor Area. The name harkens back to a description of the lumber that used to...
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