“They Just Want to Play and Talk to Their Friends”

-THEY JUST WANT TO PLAY AND TALK TO THEIR FRIENDS- (1)If you read too many blogs about education, you could be convinced that education in America is near death. Our children’s souls are being crushed. “Reforming schools should not be a proxy for reforming society—because they are kids,” declared one writer on Salon.com. “They just want to play and talk to their friends.”

There are many culprits, including Arne Duncan, standardized tests, Common Core, and charter schools.

Yet, today I visited one school that is not near death, a school where students are doing more than playing and talking with their friends. They are engaging in our civic discourse at the highest levels and proving the cynics and doubters wrong. Our youth are capable of much more than some adults realize.

Today, I saw the Bronx Lighthouse College Prep Academy, the same school that Senator Ted Cruz attempted to visit during a campaign stop during the New York primary this April. When students at the school learned of the impending visit, they wrote the following letter to the school’s principal:

A group of students will be leaving during 4th period, as an act of civil disobedience in regards to the arrival of Ted Cruz to BLCPA. We have all considered the consequences of our actions and are willing to accept them. We respect you and all the staff at BLCPA as well as the expected guests. But we want you to understand that as passionate students, we have ideas and principles that should be heard and respected. This walk out isn’t a reflection of our discontent with BLCPA but our opportunity to stand up for our community and future. This walk out is taking place because we as students all share a common idea.

Cruz ultimately cancelled the visit rather than face the walkout. Some have questioned whether the students’ actions were appropriate, whether they were being intolerant or engaging in censorship. I don’t feel that way. These students did not try to shout down the candidate, they did not rush the stage, and no punches were thrown. They exercised their right to not attend a political speech and they did so in a thoughtful, articulate manner.

PlayandTalkQuoteWhere did they learn to be thoughtful, articulate and engaged in public discourse? At their school. Bronx Lighthouse is an arts-infused school that offers Japanese Literature, Human Geography, and a Women’s Voices course. Three of the students who organized the proposed walkout, Destiny Domeneck, Thais Borges, and Tyler Vargas, enthusiastically described their college plans to me. This school and these students have not been crushed by standardized tests. To the contrary, they embody the values we would like for all of our schools and children.

One last note: Bronx Lighthouse is a charter school. Education cynics constantly warn us that charter schools are one of the main culprits destroying public education in America. Clearly, that is not the case at Bronx Lighthouse, a charter school exemplifying the best in public education.

Education in America is not dead. Students are capable of so much more than playing and talking with their friends.