Perhaps you haven’t had much contact with high school students recently, but my observation is that even at this relatively advanced stage, most teens still require a fair amount of oversight and assistance from their adults in order to accomplish the most rudimentary of tasks. The concept of advance planning is, in general, quite foreign to them. After all, one has instant contact with one’s social group at the touch of a virtual keyboard. Who needs to plan in advance?
So when we are told that the efficient and synchronized movement of not just thousands, but tens of thousands of young people, teachers, and other adults from all parts of our vast nation was “student-led,” something doesn’t fit. The kind of complex operation that involves coordinating several small cities worth of people would challenge a cadre of the professional travel specialists. Where did that expertise come from?
Another anomaly is the laser-like focus on an event, however tragic, that took place several states away, and would normally have fallen outside most students’ sphere of knowledge or interest. How many could find Broward County on a map? What do they know about the background of any of the main actors, beyond their six minutes of fame or infamy? Are they aware of the federally incentivized disciplinary policy in effect in Broward County Schools, a policy that deliberately discouraged an effective response to dozens of warning signals? How much do they know about the laws that already exist?
Then we might also wonder about the extreme level of fear and outrage generated, compared to the actual level of hazard to teenaged life and limb that an unhinged gunman presents. Since intentional killing inflicted by a firearm is the supposedly out-of-control hazard, it seems odd that, according to national Center for Disease Control statistics, homicide rates in this category for teens aged 15-19 have fallen by nearly 40 percent between 1999 and 2015 (the most recent data available). The accidental death rate is also down by nearly 50 percent. Overall, our children face far fewer hazards to life than their counterparts of just 20 years ago.
Neglected so far, however, is any mention of the top source of loss of life for older teens. Once teens are old enough to drive, car crash fatalities suddenly shoot up. The 2015 AAA figure for 16-19 year old drivers is 2,893 fatal crashes or nearly 8 deaths by automobile every day. Should we be considering a ban on these weapons of mass destruction?
A few additional numbers may cast more light on how rigorously teens evaluate potential danger. According to an AAA poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving – so far, so good. Then comes the rest – 35 percent admit to doing it anyway. This raises a certain skepticism about the extent to which, if left to themselves, the fear of death and a craving for laws designed to protect life, are high priorities for the average teen.
Three more facts further strengthen a skeptical view of self-motivated young warriors dedicated to saving lives. 1) As unbelievable as it seems, 60 percent of teen drivers killed were not even wearing a seat belt. 2) “Distracted driving” was involved in the same percentage (60 percent) of teen crash deaths, not surprising when 35 percent admit to texting and driving. 3) Nearly two out of three people killed or injured in crashes involving teen drivers were people other than the driver. Many must have been their own friends or family members. No, sadly, protecting innocent lives, even their own, does not seem to be much of a motivation.
What then to make of all this activism associated with our schools? Is youthful idealism and ignorance being exploited by adults willing to abuse their positions of trust? Mob action is itself a form of tyranny. Is it possible that we are supporting a system that is using our own children to tear down the foundations of a stable society that, whatever its failings, is still a magnet for the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breath free”?
Lacking the context to understand their own motivation, and apparently unaware of the proven value of the democratic processes by which we choose to be governed, our idealistic youth appear to be soft targets for cynical political manipulation. Working to remedy injustice is a worthy goal and an American tradition, but care must be taken not to unintentionally create more of the same. Education that covers a basic knowledge of world history and government systems, of how nations rise and why they fall, should be a prerequisite to political activism. A broad understanding of political systems and their historic outcomes has fallen out of our school curricula. To ensure success, those who wish to work for a better world must have the proper tools.
Delaware resident Deborah Kruse Guebert is a longtime educator who has taught in Europe and currently tutors students in mathematics in the local area.