It is for the first time in the modern U.S. history when both teachers and students are waging their own movements to fix long-neglected problems.
Just last month, students took to the streets for better gun control laws and this month adults responsible for education of these students are marching for better wages and learning facilities.
Thousands of Oklahoma teachers walked out of their workplaces, closing schools statewide to demand better pays and restore school funding after years of deep cuts.
To contribute in the vital movement of teachers, students are also joining hands to strengthen their protest. High school senior Gabrielle Davis created a Facebook group for students who support the teachers. Within 36 hours, it had attracted hundreds of middle school and high school students eager to rally at the state capitol.
“It just blew up overnight,” said Davis, an 18-year-old at Edmond Memorial High School. “Then I made a post that said, ‘If you want to speak, send me your name and your district.’”
Oklahoma is one of a string of red states now encountering an uprising from teachers after years of austerity. Educators have shut down schools, but that didn’t stop students from endorsing their teachers’ movement as they themselves are exasperated by slashed budgets and underfunded schools.
It is highly unlikely that critics see the teachers and students unite and not try to subvert their protests. Fault-finders are calling students who are supporting striking teachers, failing kids. In fact, Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin went so far in belittling protestors’ financial needs that she compared the teachers who walked out to spoiled teens who want better cars.
But, regardless of what haters say, from Charleston, West Virginia, to Oklahoma City, student support has helped build the teachers’ case that their own interests are aligned with those of the public.
It is yet to be seen how effective these protests turn out to be, but it sure is giving young students an unmediated experience of activism.
In the wake of repeated display of incompetence by the government, young activists have surely learnt a thing or two about making political statements.
Students wore white T-shirts and stood outside the Oklahoma capitol. Written in black marker, on their shirts were the dates of their 18th birthdays, signaling when they will finally be able to vote – some of them won’t until 2024.
Ever since the tragic Parkland school shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teens have come up with ingenious and impactful ways of calling out the Trump administration for its inefficiencies.
Jonathan Curtis, a classmate and collaborator of Davis, came up with the idea of T-shirts. He and some friends set up a table outside the capitol on Monday and tried to lobby lawmakers who were headed inside, where they’d be debating school funding measures.
Curtis addressed his fellow students where he stressed upon them to register for vote as soon as they could, and to vote out of office state lawmakers who won’t increase school funding. He also made sure to thank teachers who ensure the school kept functioning despite of meager resources.
Another student, Cameron Olbert, a sophomore at the Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City, came forward and recounted an incident that made him politically conscious about the repercussions of slashing budgets. The budget costed him his school debate coach. The coach was replaced with a teacher without debate training.
“The debate team pretty much coaches themselves now,” said Olbert.
After seeing the Facebook callout for speakers, he penned a speech of his own which he delivered at the capitol.
“We’re not just here for teacher pay raises,” he said to loud cheers. “We’re here for support staff, for art and music programs that have been decimated over the past decade. We’re here for chairs that don’t break when we sit in them. We’re here for luxuries and opportunities that other states get to take for granted.”
Students who seem to be very fond of their underpaid teachers also said they weren’t aware of how little their teachers were paid, or how far behind in funding Oklahoma had fallen compared to other states.
“We just found out that a bunch of our teachers have second jobs,” said Esme Henson, 18. “And we have it so much better than a lot of other schools.”
Another student, Farzaneh said, “My teachers taught me that if you want to change something, do it. That’s why I’m here. They never made me feel like I was in an underfunded school.”
“They’ve affected my life as much as my parents. I just love them so much,” she explained.
The lawmakers may act oblivious to everything that has been happening lately, but teachers and students are undoubtedly creating waves across the country – by one marching for their lives and other marching for means of lives.
Banner / Thumbnail : REUTERS/Nick Oxford