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Tales from the Motherhood: School walkout teaches an important lesson

Kids are the ones doing the teaching now

A scene from the walkout staged at Batavia High School on Feb. 21.
A scene from the walkout staged at Batavia High School on Feb. 21.

I’d planned to share a more thorough take on the Paramount’s “Cabaret,” playing through March 18 (Good show. Go see it. Not my all-time-favorite, but it has well-produced performances. Thought provoking story but oooh, leave the littles at home this time, [O]K? Kinda bawdy) but feel compelled to focus instead on my experience of the students’ walkout at my daughter’s high school last week.

Staged in solidarity with the victims of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 one week before, hundreds of Batavia High School students walked out of school at noon Feb. 21. Many such walkouts, each lasting 17 minutes – one for each victim – reportedly happened at schools across the nation that day, including at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia and numerous others throughout Kane County.

My daughter, a junior at Batavia High School, wasn’t sure if she’d participate. And if she did, she wasn’t sure she wanted me there. You know, “momming.” I get it. I felt I had to be, though, to honor the students’ courage, whether they walked or not. I mentioned the “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” thing (I know, right? But it was all I could think of between bites of my waffle). I felt there must be witnesses to the students’ brave action and explained these school shootings deeply affect parents, too – and so I would be there. And I wasn’t the only parent who turned up. My friend, Silvia Pelech, showed up, too.

“[The students] feel so vulnerable,” she said. “They just had to do something.” I agree. After all, it’s tough to focus on learning when part of your brain is preoccupied with survival.

As for the Feb. 21 walkout, at noon on the dot, the front doors of the high school flew open and the kids poured out. The energy was high, but nobody ran. Holly walked, too, and I’m so proud. Students learned more by walking out, and even by not walking out, than any lecture on the First Amendment to the Constitution ever could, I think. Experiential learning at its best.

In addition to walking out, Silvia’s daughter, Julia Pelech, a sophomore at Batavia High School, set up a Twitter account in support of gun reform and another walkout, the March 14th National School Walkout: @BHS_Walkout.Me thinks Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the environmental activist, journalist and suffragette for which the Parkland, Fla., high school was named, would approve.

A fierce advocate of the fight to preserve the Florida Everglades, Douglas reportedly wrote the following in an article titled “How You Can Protect the Environment” published in 1980 in the journal GeoJourney: “Speak up. Learn to talk clearly and forcefully in public. Speak simply and not too long at a time, without over-emotion, always from sound preparation and knowledge. Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at any time … Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action … . Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”

But haters gonna hate. Critics of the kids who walked out in peaceful protest say some really just wanted an excuse to dodge school for a few minutes. Well, sure, maybe a few, but so what? I’m guessing that even those kids learned something that day. About what it means to really engage an issue, about self advocacy and about self preservation. Yes, especially that.

Lacey Garner, an Atlanta teacher, posted the following on her Facebook page on Feb. 21, “Today, the fire alarm went off in our school. It was not a drill. It was not planned. Our first thought wasn’t to exit the building, but to wonder if this was the start to a very dark afternoon.

“For 30 to 60 seconds after the alarm started, the hallways were dead. Not one teacher instantly thought to abide by fire drill procedures. I had high school students begging me not to take them outside because ‘what if it was a setup for a shooting?’” Garner wrote.

Yeah, what if? And so they walk. As for Batavia, nobody tried to stop the walkers. Maybe it’s more accurate is to say school officials accepted the walkout was happening, didn’t penalize the students and even stopped traffic so they could cross the street to the park. It was very moving to watch. And 17 minutes later, they came back.

“Hi, Mom,” Holly said when she passed me. Silvia and I had deliberately hung back in the parking lot as [the procession of students filed] back in so we wouldn’t embarrass our girls, but the crowd cut through the lot past us. #Wetriedtohide!

As my friend Deb said, trying to support, yet not embarrass is a tough balancing act. Ah, and I don’t always pull it off. Seems we parents must weigh so many impossible choices. Some worry it’s foolish to encourage these walkouts, fearing that someone angry at protesters might show up and begin shooting. Whoa, I hear your concern. What would you have them do, though? Continue being sitting ducks and risk being gunned down, while their parents keep arguing about whose rights are more important? That’s madness, and they know it. We’ve failed them, and they’re not sitting down for it. So they risk standing up, instead. Standing up for their lives.

So, yes, walking out could be dangerous, which takes my breath away. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Oddly enough, when I posed this concern to my daughter she replied, “That’s the point.”

Yes, dear daughter, it is. A teachable moment, for sure. But this time it’s the kids who are doing the teaching.

Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her family. Her column runs regularly in the Kane Weekend section of the Kane County Chronicle. Contact her at

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