Opinion: Darien High Students explain why they walked out on their own accord
As two of the students who were involved with organizing and taking part in the March 14 and April 20 walkouts, we would like to explain our motives for creating and participating in these events. We are not writing with the intention to disprove anyone's political beliefs or to talk about our own political beliefs with this issue. Instead, we would like to address the many assumptions made about why all these students decided to walk out. First, students that were adamant about this issue decided to form a committee free of adult supervision. The members on the committee initially asked themselves: how does Darien relate to this ongoing national discourse? The committee knew we had to take on the role of being activists for our community as working on the local level could help create unity regardless of political stances.
Many DHS students complained after March 14 that the planned 17 minutes did not seem like a true walkout, and seemed to be more like an assembly that was created with the help of administration. Students and teachers alike could not understand why we were taking such a role in in setting up March 14, and the common Darien mentality that we were doing it all for college arose. In response to this, the committee knew that April 20 had to be strikingly independent from administration in an effort to demonstrate that it was completely student-led. We were not doing the walkout in defiance of administration as we saw that administrators alike felt the same frustration when it comes to the inaction since past school shootings.
We decided to walk down Noroton Avenue and go to the New York City rally. We did so for multiple reasons. First, we wanted to alert the community that the issue of gun violence and school shootings can affect any town. Second, we knew that we needed to do a radical action in order to demonstrate how we will no longer be bystanders. Third, we wanted to be united together as students and to represent the community at the New York City rally. We had a vast political spectrum when it came to those in the committee as well as those who represented DHS in the walkout (as we had conservatives, liberals, and even independents). We were not associated with anyone’s particular political agenda.
Ms. Ladd has been a leading figure in this and we need to address how there has been a misunderstanding of our role with her. Ms. Ladd expressed how she “felt suffocated by [her] own inaction” and as students we felt the same. Ms. Ladd’s motivation was to be an example for her students: that you have to become a leader in times when more are needed. Students wanted to learn more about what she was doing, and she was not forcing her opinions onto them. Ms. Ladd actually advised us not to walk away from the school, showing how a lot of this was of our own accord.
Her idea of wanting to walk out on her job was simply because she originally thought it was the best option for protecting students, though overtime she realized that it’s more powerful to continue teaching and inspiring students. Her priority throughout the whole movement has been to ensure that students learn the importance of speaking out and what it means to go through life confident in your values. We do believe, of course, that separating bias from classrooms is a genuine concern. However, there is a difference between advocating for a cause and explaining why one has decided to become an activist. Advocating her viewpoint would have been inappropriate if done in the classroom, but she acknowledged the potential bias that could have been created and thus decided to take her actions and beliefs physically out of classroom.
Educators, such as Ms. Ladd’s colleagues, have shared the same concern about her imposing her personal beliefs onto her students. In the piece that Mr. Cummings submitted to The Darien Times, he used words such as “personal cause” and “personal interpretation” to describe the action that Ms. Ladd took on April 20th. Students may subconsciously make an association with the authority of their teachers and them being correct, as Mr. Cummings himself points out: “Few expect a teacher to be free from opinion,” students are already aware of how their teachers can be opinionated. That being said, most students who decided to walkout were already well aware of the potential political bias. Ms. Ladd’s stance was widely circulated through her original plan of walking off the job, and there was widely-known coverage of her planning to do so. But, it’s an assumption that all the walkout students “undoubtedly share[d] her beliefs” when the students that walked out came from a broad political spectrum.
If we are talking about the philosophical implication that violating a law is an “irony,” then we would have to negate the actions of past activists. Where would we be if activists such as Nelson Mandela, Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Ghandi, or Rosa Parks hadn’t violated a law? Society may have instituted such laws in an effort to maintain peace, but they are not necessarily absolute and at times may need to be broken to provide the new changes that are essential of the times. As Howard Zinn once said, “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” Being disobedient has taught us more about civil disobedience than we will ever learn in a classroom, and showed us how it is necessary to a democratic society. Our disobedience has also led to more awareness in Darien about how this issue is subject to our town as well, even considering that we live in the notorious “bubble.” Subsequently, the walkout led to students feeling that their voices were finally being heard at a time when they don’t often have a say in such national dialogue.
Society tends to automatically think of teenagers as just “kids” who can’t understand or even recognize different viewpoints, and who are unknowingly influenced towards one. We should not be undermined for our growing intellectuality or have our opinions be invalidated altogether just because we have this teenage label. Yes, we are your “kids,” but we are also those independent thinkers about to turn into the promising adults that you wish us to be.