Another perspective on the NSWO

16 Mar

I found Megan McArdle’s Washington Post column “The student walkout said more about adults than kids” to be a useful additional perspective on a topic that, quite honestly, I’m not just biased about, but pretty strongly biased about (meaning: did I support the National School Walk Out? Absolutely, no question). Personal certainty is usually a good indicator that I need a perspective-check.

McArdles notes that in coverage of the walk out:

… one moment in particular seems especially popular among conservatives: the kids in Tennessee who used the opportunity to rip down an American flag and, allegedly, hop on the roof of a police car.


In response to this incident and its use as “proof” that the walkout was no more than an opportunity for youth to skip school and break rules, supporters of the march responded, “C’mon, these are kids.”

Which is particularly interesting, since the justification for the march, coming from the very same folks, was that we need to respect youth and what they have to say, not just dismiss them as children.

McArdle teases out this contradiction, writing:

The idea that children, in their innocence, have special moral insight goes back a long way in Western culture — perhaps to the biblical injunction that, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It has, of course, always warred with some variant of the belief that “children should be seen and not heard” — that children are not yet ready to hold up their end in adult conversations.

So when does the special moral insight of children manifest itself? When they are telling us that algebra is a stupid waste of time and the drinking age should be 14? No, funnily enough, children are only gifted with these special powers when they agree with the adults around them. Our long-standing cultural dichotomy lets adults use them strategically in political arguments, to push them forward as precious angels speaking words of prophecy to make a point, and then say, “hush, they’re just kids” when the children mar that point by acting like, well, children.

… if you wouldn’t be swayed by a 17-year-old’s passionate advocacy for a lower drinking age — or for that matter, their ideas about Federal Reserve policy — then you should probably apply those same cautions to their other views…

I appreciate the point that listening to youth–listening to anyone or any group–isn’t about convenience. It’s about the fundamental recognition that youth, people of color, evangelicals, women, rich people, people with disabilities, immigrants, all of us are people, even when our perspectives don’t serve your agenda or cause. Something I need to remember while I’m turning the volume up/down on someone else’s voice because it does or doesn’t confirm my bias or prove my point.

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