By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor
Apparently in the United States, protests are only meaningful if they’re comprised of a throng of angry, unruly adults.
On Feb. 7, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of Education in a 51-50 Senate vote. Known for her controversial views on the way education should be handled in this country – including a voucher system that would provide some students with government funding if they chose to attend religious or private schools instead of public schools – there were several groups of people voicing concern over her confirmation.
Among those concerned were nearly 200 local high school students, who, early on Feb. 8, decided to stand up for their beliefs by protesting in Market Square. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, they chanted and held signs with phrases such as “I [Love] My Public School” and “Education is our human right.” The students, most of whom were from Pittsburgh Public Schools, then marched to Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s office in Station Square. Toomey voted in favor of DeVos.
What is most surprising about this event is not that students decided to protest DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary but, rather, the response with which they were met. In a CBS Pittsburgh Facebook post that reported on this story, readers left over 450 comments, most of which were verbally irate over the fact that the students were out protesting and dismissive of their rights to do so.
One comment told the high school kids to “Go back to class and read about [DeVos], do a research paper on her, have a debate, write letters. In other words, do something educational during school.” Another comment stated, “No wonder we as a nation are at the bottom of math and science. Get back to class and do something constructive. Oh yea [sic], we don’t teach anymore, we just protest.”
Other comments insinuated that the students had no idea what they were even protesting about, such as this one, which said, “Honestly, does anybody really think that the average Pittsburgh Public School student even knows or cares who [is] the Secretary of Education? I would bet that none of them even know who the last one was.”
Kids are told by adults from the time they first enter school, and perhaps even before that, to take education seriously because they are the future of the world. They will be the next doctors, lawyers, businessmen and even the next education secretaries.
Yet, as soon as these kids step out to participate in the world – taking part in democracy by non-violently voicing their worries over something that directly affects them as students currently in the U.S. education system – they are met by furious adults who just want them to remain silent.
What kind of lesson does that reaction teach children across the nation? It shows them that standing up for what they believe in is meaningless and unimportant because they are young. It shows them that there is no educational value in speaking up to protect what they consider to be important in their lives.
But not all of life’s best lessons are learned in the classroom. Some may even go so far as to argue that none of life’s most important lessons are grasped while sitting at a desk in school with a teacher at the whiteboard talking about algebra.
Sure, the majority of these kids are probably under 18 and are therefore not legal adults. But that does not mean that their opinions are any less valuable to society. Especially when those opinions are regarding a potential future education system that could uproot them from the familiar schools they have been learning in for years now. To treat kids’ thoughts on the subject as worthless because they are young is dangerous and inhibits future growth.
In this nation, everyone has a voice. As adults that these kids are looking up to, we should be teaching them how to use their voices, not how to lose them.