The primary responsibility a civilization has to its children – after working to ensure their survival, which surely should go without saying – is to help them grow into strong, engaged adults.
That cannot be accomplished by shouting them down, patronizing them by insisting they really don’t know what they’re talking about, casting doubts on their motivation, dismissing them as pawns or flat-out lying about them.
It cannot be accomplished by disparaging them because they are not parroting the ideas of adults.
We should be teaching students to listen carefully and to evaluate critically. We should not be speaking down to them with such tired platitudes as “Guns don’t kill people.” They know the issue is more complex than that, and we should be glad they do.
We should be teaching them to offer their best ideas and work with others to refine those ideas. We should be teaching them to disagree respectfully. We should be teaching them to reach past divisions rather than devaluing the voices of those whose issues are different.
We should be teaching them by example, and the way some students have been treated over the past 10 days is instead a shameful display of denigrating their fears, their voices and their proposed solutions. That is no surprise; the example of adults interacting with one another has been no better lately.
Many high school seniors are old enough to vote and enlist in the military. They are old enough to have a voice, with a coherent, persuasive message. They are constituents. They are stakeholders. We all should hope we’ve prepared them for those roles.
They’re well aware of what’s going on around them, and they have gathered enough information to accurately assess whether society’s direction is positive. Some of them, including students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Aztec High School, and too many other schools to list, have gained that knowledge in a terrible way.
They have a right to advocate for themselves and their peers. To suggest otherwise is not only illogical, it’s deplorable.
High school students are idealistic, a trait more than countered by a cynicism that has infected a country, but they are not naive. They can see what is wrong partly because they haven’t been charged with defending it. No matter how many times adults tell them that this country has a mental health problem, a parenting problem, a video game problem, a social media problem, they can see that the United States also has a gun problem.
They don’t offer a perfect solution. They are completely justified, however, in believing that few solutions have ever been attempted. Adults have let these young people down.
Southwest Colorado’s teens are impressive. They are scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes, artists and writers and musicians. They are movers and shakers, dreamers and doers. No matter how often the cliché has been repeated, it is still true: They are the future, and that’s a good thing. They are our hope.
Pay attention to what they’re saying. Treat them like thinking human beings who are committed to making the world better, because that’s who they are. Give them credit for wanting to work for good, and equip them with the skills and training they need to do it.
Above all, listen to them. Listen carefully.