Elders Impugn The Young After Gun Massacre

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, due to the traumatic horrors they witnessed and suffered at the hands of a 19-year-old gun owner, travelled to the Florida State House asking for a ban on assault weapons. The House rejected the motion. Rather than give in to despair over their loss, these young people went on to inspire other students and teachers to take action across the country.

In response to this, some prominent elders in the conservative political media showed their disdain for young adults and their tin ears to the issues being raised by them by dismissing them as pawns of liberal, antigun forces.

In particular, note this quote from the New York Times article linked above: “Jack Kingston, a former United States representative from Georgia and a regular CNN commentator, asked, “Do we really think—and I say this sincerely—do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?” (He was quickly rebuked by the anchor Alyson Camerota.)”

I’m glad Kingston was quickly rebuked, but it took a bit longer to clear 17-year-old David Hogg and 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, who became engaging spokespeople for the student survivors, and who were accused of being coached or actors paid to stir up controversy rather than well-spoken, young adults acting in a pro-active, civic manner.

The charge that these young people might have been coached is particularly hypocritical coming from men with staffs of researchers, producers,and patrons who carefully coach and prep their pundit before each performance. The low opinion these adults hold of the abilities and ethics of young people is striking.

The pundits’ condescension towards youth demonstrates how confused we are about who a young adult is in the United States. Young adult fiction is considered to address ages 12 to 18, but in psychology young adult refers to those ages 18 to 25. This indicates that years lived are often fluid markers, not definitive milestones, of intellectual and emotional development. Yet, we continue to make decisions about what youths can and can’t do on the assumption that those age markers are definitive.

Do we really think 17-year-olds should not be listened to when they petition their government to prevent 19-year-olds from legally owning assault weapons that have been repeatedly used to kill students in schools throughout the United States? Do we really think 17-year-olds aren’t smart enough to know, when they turn 18, who ignored them when they cried out for support? (I hope they won’t be turned cynical by how the political system treats them and become nonvoters.)

The students are well aware that other political interests can hijack their movement. Upon hearing that George Clooney and other Hollywood celebrities were donating large sums to help organize the rallies, the New York Times reports the students in Florida “worried that Mr. Clooney’s star power and liberal activism would swallow their voices and push conservatives away. ‘The minute they don’t see our faces anymore, and they just see the Hollywood elite, they’re going to stop taking it seriously,” said Chris Graday, 18, a senior …”

Such political savvy shown by the young gives me hope.

Why can’t we just support and encourage these young people in their single goal of banning assault weapons instead of blending them into the conventional, adult-driven, conservative/liberal battle narrative?

Some reading this might think I’m subtly using it to encourage homeschooling by discussing school shootings, which I’m not. I’m writing in support of students, parents, and teachers who feel we are doing a terrible job of listening and paying attention to our children at home, in school, and throughout society.

To that end, I want to remind you of the competence, empathy, and intelligence of young people everywhere, in the hope that adults start to seriously welcome and listen to their concerns—and to realize that children and young adults can accomplish meaningful and important things regardless of how immaturely the adults around them behave.

The Kid’s Guide to Social Action (Free Spirit, 2015) has true stories of young people (elementary and high-school age) making a real difference in their communities by deciding how and why they could help others (free preview).

Malala Yousafzai

Notes from Canada's Young Activists (Greystone, 2012). From the book’s online description: “‬While in her teens, Miali-Elise Coley in Iqaluit organized a summer-camp program for less-privileged kids in her community to get them out on the land. Craig Kielburger founded Free The Children to raise awareness of the injustices of child labour. Tim Harvey biked and rowed around the globe to draw attention to climate change. At twenty-three, Lyndsay Poaps became the youngest elected official in Vancouver's history, serving as a city park board commissioner for three years. George Roter co-founded Engineers Without Borders, an organization of Canadian engineers that reaches across frontiers between Canada and Africa to help developing communities.”‬‬