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Business Casual: Leading the Way

You pretty much knew that the young people who mobilized in the wake of the Parkland shootings would be attacked by those who feared that their resolve and their outrage would become the nationwide movement that it now is. But the callousness and scope of the assaults still came as something of a shock.

After all, these are high school students trying to make sense of a personal trauma that is also a national tragedy and find an effective way to focus the country’s attention on school safety and impediments to that very reasonable goal.

How could you live through such a horrific event – whether you experienced it first-hand or watched it on your phone – then simply shake it all off and turn your attention to prom dresses and cafeteria food the next week?

These are young people who have studied the American Revolution and its leaders, who fought to right wrongs and establish a democracy. They have learned about the Civil Rights Movement and its heroes. So why is it a surprise when they take those lessons to heart and act on them?

Still, sadly, it was predictable that some conspiracy theorists began calling the student spokespersons “actors.” And when fraudulent websites showed a faked image of one of the outspoken survivors tearing up something they claimed was a copy of the Constitution – it wasn’t.

A personal attack on one student’s sexual orientation by a candidate for the Maine statehouse, who has since dropped out of the race, crossed a line that any decent individual would recognize and respect. The campaign staff of Republican Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) disparaged the same Cuban-American student, Emma González, for wearing a jacket patch depicting the flag of “communist” Cuba, even though the flag pre-dates the communist regime by more than half a century.

Fox News personality Laura Ingraham’s mocking another student for his college application rejections was shameful. Ingraham apologized – and lost some heavy-hitter advertisers.

The ever-helpful former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, proposed that students learn CPR rather than speak out. (Note to Mr. Santorum: CPR is most effective when used on the living.)

And then there was Georgia’s Republican ex-Congressman Jack Kingston’s tweet and subsequent comments on CNN suggesting that the student activists were being used. “Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda. Do we really think 17 year olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?” (Note to Mr. Kingston: Yes.)

I don’t understand why these individuals find it more satisfying to go after the survivors than to acknowledge the problem and join the effort to find solutions.

Let’s begin with the Second Amendment: It’s not really in danger and certainly has not been a target of student protests. Most people have no desire to mess around with any part of the Bill of Rights – including me.

So can we tune out the noise and concentrate on the safety of our kids?

These are serious young people. On the day of the national school walk-out a month after the Florida shootings, I watched several hundred students at Decatur High leave their building and assemble somberly and respectfully to hear the names of all 17 individuals killed and to observe a moment of silence for each one.

Can we work with them to find answers instead of reminding them to get back to algebra class?

For starters, as schools are re-evaluating their safety procedures in light of the shootings, let students be part of that effort. They certainly know the vulnerabilities of their schools’ schedules and physical layouts better than anyone. Let them also be part of any school system or community-wide efforts to address school safety. Let’s give them the chance to weigh in on whether teachers should be armed, for instance.

Of course, we’d all prefer that these young people be encased in a sheltered and protected bubble of high school fun and frolic that we want to believe actually exists. But that’s not an option for the students, who have seen classmates slaughtered in front of them, or even those who have watched the videos and newsreels from a distance.

I don’t think we can legitimately tell them to leave it to the grownups.

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