Students walking out of class as a means to fight for justice is nothing new.
Back in 1968, approximately 15,000 students walked out of Los Angeles public high schools demanding an equal, qualitative and culturally relevant education. The same year, 400 students at Edgewood High School in San Antonio held a walkout protesting insufficient supplies and unqualified teachers. Forty-four years later, in what could be called a blast from the past, a recent walk-out at Frederick Douglass Academy, an all-male, predominantly Black high school in Detroit, is bringing walkouts to a new generation.
“If anything, I’m surprised by this incident. This isn’t the very first time, but this phenomenon is comparatively new for this generation of schools,” Eric Hurly, associate professor of psychology and Africana studies at Pomona College tells BET.com.
On Thursday, approximately 50 students at the urban school were suspended for walking out of their classes to protest a lack of consistent teachers and the removal and reassignment of the principal who was punished for taking a three-month sick leave. As recently as last month, students spent weeks passing time in the gym, library or cafeteria due to a lack of teachers. They are demanding qualified teachers, new courses and more math attention.
"We've been wronged and disrespected and lied to and cheated," senior Tevin Hill, who made the announcement to start the walkout, told the Detroit Free Press. "They didn't listen to us when we complained to the administration…so I guess this is the only way to get things solved."
Whether the school or the administration is at fault, Professor Hurly has studied multiple factors that facilitate and hinder African-American children’s learning. He says the reality is we live in a nation where thousands upon thousands of kids are in a position where they feel as if they could walk out of their corrupt school environments. His research contradicts the stereotype of Black children having a disinterest in school, and he says they should fight for their rights.
“It is in its way appropriate. I think very often we talk around Black children’s education as if they are not a part of the equation, and they are,” he says. “Our kids are interested in their education, but they are also in the worst position to understand the bigger picture which surrounds their educational profile.”
As a student, you may not have the bravery to walk out of class and risk getting suspended like the students in Detroit, but you can raise awareness through social media. If you can’t organize a walkout, start a letter-writing campaign, or a petition, or a blog, he suggests.
“I think social media is potentially an avenue to raise awareness. I think it’s really hard for individuals or small groups of students to get the kind of access to the people in power who would need to make the changes, but in mass, they can do things.”
Parents can also address school shortcomings. Although parents in low-income areas may be working two to three jobs, that should not stop their involvement in their child’s education, Hurley says. No matter how busy parents may be, however, he says it’s important to get involved in parent-teacher associations to make sure the school and school board know you are watching their every move.
“People are working hard just to survive and it’s hard to find many hours a month to get involved in schools; however, I feel it’s a necessary condition.” Hurley adds starting a parent association and addressing the concerns of other parents, “creates a situation where the school knows the moves they make are being closely observed by parents who are invested in their children being in positive education environments and who are watching carefully.”
Whether you’re a student or a parent, attention can be brought to school problems. Marches may not be as effective as they once were, but new means of protesting, such as through an Internet campaign, are available. The first step is knowing you have a voice.
The Detroit school board says it is working with parents to help them address issues at the school.
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(Photo: Courtesy myfoxdetroit.com)