Protest this!. 4.28.10

4.28.10 We’re finally hearing from students, those folks who are the reason that we try to pay for the school system in the country. Up till now, Christie has blamed the current “financial crisis” solidly on teachers, the New Jersey Education Association.

Early yesterday morning, students from all across the state promptly walked out of their classrooms in protest to the Christie budget cuts. Just how many of the students walked out “in the name of civil disobedience”, and how many students just wanted a free day off from school we may never know. But, since children are the future, we should take heed of their message. They don’t want to see cutbacks in the quality of their education and after school programs anymore than the majority of the residents of New Jersey do.

But listening to the Jersey Guys on 101.5 yesterday belittle the high school student efforts at utilizing their First Amendment rights, it made me think of my own days in high school back in 1972—-issue back then was the war in Vietnam…

In the early 70s, on many college campuses moratoriums were called to protest the war in Vietnam. Tens of thousands of college students protested the war on one particular day by not going to class. At Sheepshead High School Bay in Brooklyn, the group called Students For Peace (SFP), headed by Wayne M., attempted to organize the same thing: for one day students were asked to stay out of class to protest the war in Vietnam.

Now, SFP was a fairly powerful group at school, or so we thought. Whenever they called for a moratorium asking students to stay out of class they would put up flyers all over the school — — some legally placed on bulletin boards and in the student lounge—some placed illegally in bathroom stalls, hallways, to telephone poles outside the school. And whenever these flyers went up, invariably hundreds of students would cut class. SFP began to feel the effect of their power.

In addition to joining the National Moratorium against the war (which many young teachers did also), SFP would sometimes just call a moratorium for no apparent reason. Once again, hundreds of students stopped going to class disrupting school completely. Of course, this does not sit well with Dean Weber, the dean of students. And so new draconian student absenteeism rules were put into place.

This only infuriated SFP even more. Their answer: a moratorium was called against the new draconian student absenteeism rules. Giving hundreds of students yet another reason to stay out of class.

Finally Dean Weber had had enough. He asked for a meeting with leaders of SFP, try to meet their demands. This was very exciting for high school students — — to be as well respected as their college hippie counterparts. And so, myself, Wayne, Holly, Stephen, Karen and about five other students met at Holly’s parents house can make up our list of demands. We debated what seemed like hours and hours over ice cream and cookies make up our list of demands. When we were done, and about one in the morning — — we entrusted Stephen to write up the final list of demands, and bring them with him to the meeting with Dean Weber the following morning. Longer lunch periods. More outdoor activities. No military recruitment on campus. Student input in hiring of teachers. An anti-war symposium. Stephen loved saying the word “symposium”. Student taught classes.

We were excited and exhausted.

At 7:30 AM in the morning, before classes began, there we stood—proudly– in the lobby of Dean Weber’s office. Ready to negotiate with him. Ready to fight for our rights. He would bow to our will. Stephen enters the lobby.

“List of demands? I thought Karen was bringing it?” Panic and screaming ensue. “Nope, you.” “It was Holly’s idea for Stephen.” “Nope, it was Wayne’s. He’s the President.” Blah, blah, blah. Dean Weber appears, ready for us.

“We forgot our list of demand,” Stephen admits, somewhat sheepishly. Dean Weber smirks, taking the wind out of our sails. “Dog ate your homework, I see?”.

He gave us ten minutes to re-think our plan, but six hours of work could not be done in ten minutes. We lost our edge, and we transformed into teenagers once again. He met with us, butwe continued to argue amongst ourselves. “Go back to class,” Dean Weber advised.

And so, the war eventually ended. And the term eventually ended. Dean Weber retired three years later, I heard.

So it goes.

Protest this!. 4.28.10