The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Walk away: the unproductive truth about school-wide walkouts

Berreby claims that while student-led walkouts can be effective, there are more productive manifestations of activism.

You’re outside. The wind is blowing in your face as you hear the students on the megaphone speaking. Their chants can be heard inside the classrooms, right through the walls of the school. Students are chanting the tunes of liberation, freedom and equality for all. But then it ends. The world has not magically transformed to be more sustainable, anti-racist and accepting of all sexualities and bodies. Rather it falls back into its all too comfortable rhythm. This is what our walkouts do for our community. Nothing.

The main purpose of walkouts is to gain attention for a cause. Nevertheless, most of the walkouts have never made it past the Boston Globe and often get forgotten, thereby not inciting change and being an unproductive form of activism.

Walking out for a cause is not inherently unproductive; there have been many historically impactful walkouts. The 1968 L.A. School Walkouts protested the administration that prohibited students from speaking Spanish and forced Mexican students to assimilate into American culture. It started at Garfield High School and expanded to a multitude of other schools, ultimately helping the national movement to better Mexican education and equality within an institutionalized, racist schooling system.

So, what makes our walkouts different? School walkouts are not beneficial protests unless the issue at hand is directly or locally related to the school. In the past three years I have been to a total of five strikes all for different causes: racism within the school administration, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the climate crisis, the “don’t say ‘gay’” bill and finally the anti-trans legislation across the country. However, a lot of these bills are federal or international causes and don’t immediately affect the Greater Boston community.

Take the climate change walkout, for instance. Climate change is an international emergency that needs to be discussed and prioritized. However, the core source of our carbon emissions comes from large corporations. Protesting against climate change by missing class does nothing to hit the core of the issue. Large factories and monopolies don’t care about your choice to leave school.

Do you know who does care? The school administration. In 2022, after a racist video circulated at the high school, a Dean pulled Black students throughout the grade to see how this delicate situation should be handled. The students involved felt outraged that they were in a position to find solutions to this problem. A student protest was organized, and it took the school by storm and forced the Deans to apologize and reconcile their actions. This type of rebellion is extremely effective as it is a school-related issue that directly applies pressure on those in charge to make the change.

Those who organize these walk-outs have argued that while walkouts don’t change the greater, wider world, they do inspire future activists to make changes in their community. To that, I ask, why can’t we teach this idea in our classrooms? Instead of taking time away from our education to inspire each other, how about we make it a part of our core curriculum? Our history classes are incredibly robust and give us the space and time to discuss the trailblazers within social justice movements and how they brought us to where we are today; our time is better spent ensuring activism is embedded into our lessons.

So, how do we make an impactful change? I am in no way saying that all school-related activism is meaningless. This idea that the “only” way to make change is by “bringing awareness” to certain subjects limits us. We should be fueling our efforts into organizations with the resources to hit these issues at their source. For instance, people could run a bake sale for Climate Action Network (CAN), an international network that works on bettering science policy, technology and agriculture. Or, people could start a club that works directly with victims of different social issues. These goals have to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound; and only then will they be on their way to achieving collective liberation, rather than performative activism.

However, If you are adamant about going on strike, find a way to target unethical behavior within the Brookline community, just like the walkout against racism in the school administration. Most of the K-8 elementary schools haven’t implemented successful composting programs. You could walk out for a local bill that requires public schools in the area to be conscious of their waste. But, I urge you to make any strike you do bigger and better; organize multiple different school walkouts in the Greater Boston area and have a steam-rolling effort that continues to put pressure on the administration for a long time. Otherwise, you’ll look at the absences on your report card and wonder, was it really worth it?

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