Yesterday, students from Camden’s high schools staged a walk out and marched to the Board of Education building for answers about teacher layoffs and other worries with the new direction the Camden School District is taking. There is great coverage from the Inquirer and the Courier-Post, on issues such as suspensions (after rumors that students would be suspended, it appears that won’t be the case) and other issues. The multi-media offerings are wonderful to, with April Saul leading the charge with stunning photos at her facebook page, and the Courier-Post sharing video of multiple speeches. Overall, the event attracted many media accounts, so I want to use this space to draw attention to highlight a couple of the most important takeaways from the meeting:
- State-appointed superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard stated no schools would be closed. Is this a new promise that indicated Pyne Poynt will remain open? Or is it a parsing of words that the district has not yet announced closings, or believes “phasing out” schools is not “closing” them?
- Is the district’s dialogue an appeasement strategy or honest listening? The superintendent first requested that four students come inside to speak with him. As shown in the Courier-Post video, this wasn’t taken too kindly. As I’ve talked about before, these small meetings behind closed doors are being used to rhetorically counterbalance protests. Is the promise for dialogue just more of the same?
- This was an impressive feat of organizing by the students, and I think there are serious reasons to consider what they have to say. Like any protest, there are leaders, fringe members who have a vague understanding of the issues, and others who are along for the ride. But students voice is twice ignored, because not only are there no democratic structures in education in Camden, but students aren’t old enough to vote even if Camden residents could vote. And yet, students are the ones who are most directly impacted by these decisions. When they talk of loving their teachers, or supporting traditional schools, it should make the rest of us pause; their expertise is in living within this system everyday.
- All of which leads me to my final thought. These students don’t deserve dialogue. They deserve rights and power over issues that affect them. And, most impressively, they are willing to fight for that when it isn’t given to them. Social media reports from Camden High indicated that there were attempts to lock students in the building to keep them from protesting. These students risked suspension and defied authority because they think the direction of School District is flawed and their voice should be heard. That is courageous.