Saturday, May 17, 2008

Being the Parent of a Protester

Our son Glen is officially an activist.

His school recently fired all of its instructors and then required them to reapply for their positions. Of course, not everyone was rehired. This move was euphemistically called "Fresh Start." Glen's school and one other school in the district were affected. The move was, of course, controversial. The district claimed it was all about improving quality, paying attention to standards, etc. But obviously such measures have an impact on overall student and teacher morale, which factors into quality. Teachers accused the administration of not understanding the realities on the ground that contribute to (or detract from) a quality education. The usual kind of bickering in this era of endless tax cuts and cut-backs.

A number of beloved teachers were in the number who weren't rehired. And when the news came out, students at Glen's school organized a protest. It was unclear to me where the initiative for the protest came from, whether from the students or the teachers. The teachers certainly didn't discourage it.

The protest took the form of a school walk out. Glen told us about the protest in advance. The plan for the protest was for students to leave the building after the first hour and to gather peacefully on the lawn of the school. Some carried signs with the names of teachers who were being fired. We were told the protest would last two hours.

Glen told us in advance more in the form of a warning that he was doing this, than in the form of an asking for permission. Of course we supported him fully in his decision to participate. I personally am undecided as to the merit of the "Fresh Start." It may or may not have a positive impact on educational standards. But I am 100% supportive of our foster son beginning to exercise the kind of moral responsibility required to live in a democratic society. If he felt that the "Fresh Start" was wrong, he had a responsibility to do something about it, and we supported him.

The day of the protest, apparently a minority of students decided that a two-hour walk-out was not long enough and decided to skip school for the rest of the day. Apparently a majority of this minority happened to be seniors. Though Glen is a sophomore, he and a few others in his class decided to participate in the extended walk out.

Göran and I were, frankly, less than 100% pleased about this. We felt that the originally planned two-hour walk-out was more than enough to send a message to the administration. As important as protesting for a just cause is, education is also important. We wondered if the motives of those who skipped the rest of the day were less than pure -- playing hooky in the name of social justice. When we questioned Glen about it, he made it clear that those who participated in the two-hours-only protest were mere protesters of convenience, who participated just to go along with their friends. The real protesters, the ones who really believed in the cause were the ones who stayed out all day.

Welcome to the real world, where motives are seldom pure, where appearances can be deceiving, and where actions taken to effect a particular goal have effects other than those intended. Being a veteran of numerous activist causes, I understand where Glen is coming from. It's strange though, being a parent and having a whole different set of emotions that are all wrapped up in what I think might be best for him. I now have much more empathy with my parents!

But my gut instinct is to give him the benefit of at doubt, to accept that his decisions won't necessarily be perfect, but that they are his decisions to make, and that he needs to start learning to make them now, while there's squidge room for failure, so that he can hopefully be better at making them later when there's less squidge.

Freedom is a precious and precarious gift.

No comments: