I’ve been an anguished observer on Twitter since the shootings in Parkland, Fl. For those readers not on Twitter, many of the students involved have used Twitter as both a rallying cry as well as a deeply personal forum for their grief and love. It is an amazingly raw and personal, never really seen before window into the recovery process after a school shooting as well as a powerful testament to the rallying power of social media. So many of us have watched in amazement at the powerful healing of students rallying a nation, turning their grief to meaning.
Sadly, it’s also been a window into the depths of meanness which is such a distressing part of social media. But this time, much of the meanness is being perpetrated by adults who should know better…not random trolls, but public figures, media figures and political figures who dislike the views of some of the students and take opportunities to personally demean them in an attempt to defame their character.
I find this a deeply distressing development. Vilifying the survivors of a school shooting seems like a low to which our social fabric should not be able to tolerate. It should be socially unacceptable whether you are conservative, liberal or agnostic to politics. The students have had stories made up about them(paid crisis actors), been ridiculed by a prominent figure online for their tears at the Florida legislature, and in tonight’s low, ridiculed for not getting into certain colleges by a tv anchor. It makes me despair because what does this say about our society and culture right now? Again, these are not trolls making these remarks but news anchors, politicians and the like.
Shouldn’t some things be off limits? Can we not disagree with a political viewpoint without belitting the person who holds it, particularly if this person is the victim of a school shooting? Is there no sacred ground compelled by grief? by human empathy?
As an educator, I feel agonized by this. How can all the time we spend teaching our students not to bully pay off, when they tune into social media and see mainstream figures tormenting TEENAGERS? I can’t imagine the anguish of the parents of these teenagers and admire their bravery and courage for continuing to let their children follow their muses and to continue to lead out in public, when I know it must be so difficult to see what their children are facing. For adults who are ridiculing these teens, where is your compassion for the fears of their parents as well? When did meanness become a “brand”?
Some teachers are online and aware of this, and many others may not be. But our students are seeing it–they are online, and they are seeing the cruelty. They are also, thankfully, seeing the resilience of these students whose transparency is their best weapon — because they don’t cower when faced with this meanness–they “out it” for all to see. And they handle much of it with grace, humor, even love, because they have each other to lean on, and I hope, because they feel the love so many are sending them.
As educators, we need to be talking to students about all of this. What are our students noticing? What are they concerned about? What are the lines we can draw as a civilized society about how we treat one another? How can we disagree but be civil? How can we be, as Mr. Rogers said, the “helpers” that we should look for in times of trouble? There’s many ways we can help..for example, the last two years, we’ve had a small civil discourse club in the library — as our small gesture to help our students learn to discuss the issues.
It’s so important we not avoid this topic. If we want to give anything back to these students, then we can ask for civility. When we see the lack of it, we can advocate for it by writing and calling out broadcasters, Congress persons, or public figures who have crossed the line. But we can also model civility for our students and we can talk to them about what they are seeing online. We can be the “helpers” that we are looking for.
And lastly, to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I am both so proud of you, and so sorry. Thank you for out of your grief, teaching a nation to lead. As Chloe x Halle sing, ‘The Kids are Alright.” And we are here for you.