“Kids these days aren’t like we were when we were kids.” What a sad, tired trope. Every generation has criticized the generation behind them. It’s lame, counterproductive and rooted in fear more than fact. I’ve seen a lot of finger wagging lately concerning student walk outs and protests. I hope every kid in America walks out of class on Wednesday because Cronus is out of control. You remember Cronus the Titan–after hearing the prophecy that his children would overthrow him, he was worried, so he decided to eat them. In the Titanomachy we learn that Cronus’ son Zeus, defeats him (with the aid of his siblings).
Today, Cronus could represent our broken, tribalistic politics—a system so dysfunctional that issues that have vast consequence like wealth inequality, climate change, access to higher education, infrastructure repair, immigration reform and common-sense gun control can’t even be debated in the halls of Congress. How we tackle these issues should be the subject of great debate! The fact we don’t even address these issues is emblematic of our broken politics. That’s why we need the kids to walk out and march and to keep marching and protesting.
Think of the protest lead by students in Florida over the last month. The Florida legislature passed a bill which the governor signed that directly challenges the NRA. What a lightning bolt! Perhaps mass demonstrations by students can help awaken us to our dire situation. I’ve seen people be critical of these student protests for some of the following reasons:
- These kids don’t understand the complexity of the issues.
- They just want an excuse to skip school.
- These kids are lazy and just preoccupied with their phones.
- They don’t really care about society.
I spent my career working with high school age students. I find these critiques intellectually anemic, morally weak and pessimistic to say the least.
- These kids don’t understand the complexity of the issues: The average group of kids across the country between the ages of 12 and 18, given the time and resources, would easily devise rational, balanced informed, thoughtful and effective policy. I spent time in their classrooms. I’ve seen them in debate tournaments, model UN and other leadership training. The reason adults can’t produce the same quality of policy that these kids can isn’t about capacity. It’s about political will. The students could devise great policy because they don’t have to compete with powerful special interests. They could come up with comprehensive common-sense gun control policy without worrying about the NRA. Their policy would be compatible with the Second Amendment but not compatible with gun manufacturers and their lobbyists. Education reform would be no problem if they didn’t have to negotiate with teacher’s unions. Climate change, no big deal, if they were not too worried about fundraising or negative consequences by big oil companies. These kids are bright, capable and courageous.
- They just want an excuse to skip school: For some of them, sure, but most of them are super dedicated and hard-working. I’ve seen these kids donate countless hours after school to worthwhile projects. These are the same kids who volunteer after school, attend early morning religious programs, donate their time and talents as mentors and coaches to younger children. With homework, after school jobs, extracurricular activities and their regular school day most of these kids put in a solid 12 hours a day of productivity.
- These kids are lazy and just preoccupied with their phones: No question, we have some real concerns with kids and technology. Technology that was almost exclusively put in their hands by adults. If you are unhappy with how kids use technology, blame the adults, not children.
- They don’t really care about society: Of course, they do! They care that the polar ice caps are melting. They care that their friends may be deported through no fault of their own. They care that college is so expensive that they will incur debt well into adulthood just to attend. They care that they are not safe at school! They care about society. They know they are about to inherit our mess.
We should do everything we can to encourage our children to be more civic minded. We need them to come break the log jam that is our current special interest, tribalistic, money driven politics. We need their hope, passion, resilience and brilliance to combat the pessimistic, faux outrage, winner takes all mess we adults have made. No kid under 18 has any responsibility for the current state of our broken politics. We adults must own that completely!
I hope they march out this Wednesday and every Wednesday thereafter. I hope they take to the streets. I hope they show up at every town hall and political event. I hope they will be the ones that will come and save us from ourselves. I hope somehow the tragedy in Florida can be turned into a battle cry. I hope it will summon the champions and liberate us from Cronus’ tyranny.