About a dozen St. Louis public school students have been staging a sit-in in Mayor Slay’s office since Wednesday afternoon. They’re upset that their school district might lose accreditation, that the adults in town can’t seem to play nice with each other long enough to ensure the kids a good education, and a couple are worried about the impact the loss might have on their college scholarships.
There are a lot of things wrong with the city’s schools, and these kids had a lot of questions that the grown-ups aren’t answering. I’m not saying that the sit-in is a good idea, or that they’re likely to effect any change with a Mayor who has no direct power over the schools, but it has gotten them quite a bit of attention, including a couple of hours of discussion on my show the last two afternoons.
So, what does the public think? The number one comment was, “why aren’t these kids in school?” My colleague Kevin Killeen put that question to the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Diana Bourisaw, on Thursday afternoon, and she replied, “That’s up to them…..there are all sorts of educational opportunities that go on outside the classroom.” She was vilified for not insisting immediately that these kids get back to class, so she changed her stance and urged them to return to school on Friday.
Those complainers are acting like the school day is holy, and children should never miss a minute. The truth is that kids are out of school all the time for non-educational nonsense. In St. Louis, it is not unusual for parents to pull them out in the middle of the day to take them to an afternoon Cardinals game. I know of some kids who were allowed to leave school early — or miss it altogether — the last two days because they wanted to stay home and watch March Madness. And we have friends who think nothing of taking their kids out of school for an entire week because that’s when the parents can get off from work and take them away on vacation.
Even my daughter isn’t immune to it. Her 7th grade classes were skipped on Friday so they could go on a school-sanctioned field trip to an ice rink, where they skated for charity for a couple of hours, then went to a mall food court for lunch (and a quick visit to the arcade). This is the same school that last month took all the kids in her grade to see the movie “Charlotte’s Web” during the day. Of course, none of the students complained but, as a parent, these non-educational excursions during school time made me raise an eyebrow.
Predictably, on Friday, several students from other city high schools tried to join the protest. Some of them may have been earnest in their support, but I’d bet that many of them just wanted an excuse to skip school, too.
When I was in college, there was a big protest over the administration changing the academic calendar. Instead of finals taking place before winter break, they moved them to January, which meant we’d have to study on vacation, an ugly prospect when all you want to do is get away and have some down time. When the university president wouldn’t sit down and talk to student leaders about changing the calendar, a few dozen students decided to express their displeasure by staging a sit-in at the administration building.
Word quickly spread on campus, and within an hour, there were hundreds of kids camped out in the lobby, the hallways, and some of the offices. I was there, too, covering the event for the college radio station, and can tell you that a very large number of the students there had no idea what the protest was about. All they knew was that there was a large gathering of people from all over campus, and they joined in. By the second hour, the crowd had swelled to at least a thousand students. The administration decided it would be impractical to force everyone out, so they just called in more security to make sure the place wasn’t vandalized and no one got hurt.
I think the whole thing lasted into the next afternoon, when many of those who had gone for a party, not a cause, got bored (or ran out of drugs and batteries for their radios) and went back to their dorms. A small band of die-hards stuck it out for a couple of days and finally met with the school president, who never did change the calendar back. At that point, the dissatisfied protesters dispersed and life went back to normal.
The real test for the juniors and seniors hanging out in Mayor Slay’s office is whether they make it through this weekend. Instead of skipping class, that means sacrificing their own free time, which at 17 and 18 is precious.