Some things simply aren’t written into our public school curriculum. There aren’t established standards for compassion, integrity, authenticity, and standing up for what you believe in. However, this doesn’t mean opportunities for such teachable moments do not present themselves, but they’re often avoided due to fear or retaliation. Fear of offending someone, fear of negative consequences, fear of judgment are several ways in which fear manifest. During the time of human development when we are the most impressionable, most creative, and most in touch with our core selves and passions, we are often robbed of those traits in order to adhere to fear-driven preset standards that create conformity.
Fortunately, teachable moments have a way of unexpectedly inserting themselves into our lives creating standards for morals and conformity is wholly disregarded. I had the pleasure this week of personally witnessing such a moment. On my morning commute, I observed students outside a Los Angeles public school protesting what they deemed to be the unjust removal of a beloved science teacher. Seeing these students passionately picketing for something they believed in, in order to help someone they believed in, almost moved me to tears.
According to KTLA,
Greg Schiller was suspended from the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (map) in February when another employee raised concerns that two of Schiller’s students made projects that looked like weapons, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The projects, which were designed to launch small projectiles, have been confiscated by LAUSD as evidence, one parent told the Times. Schiller said he did not get a chance to grade the students’ work. Read Full Article
The lump in my throat signified how inspired I was by these students standing up for themselves and their beliefs. It is so easy at any age to simply sit back, complain, and not lift a finger in effort toward that which is right. Yet, here were high school students who are taught daily to respect authority and their decisions. Often by remaining silent and doing what they’re told, they adhere to the set standard. However, in this instance, they took a risk and fully expressing themselves. The protest also occurred one day after another LAUSD student-led protest, in which the students were successful in securing their desired student position on the school board.
It was a moment of personal and universal reflection for me. As a therapist it’s my job to advocate for my clients and motivate them to advocate for themselves, yet I frequently struggle with that both professionally and personally. There are moments every day where I-we-have the opportunity to speak up for ourselves and others in an effort to create a more kind and just world. Yet, we often shrink back out of fear and the opportunity passes. We may not always be right. There may be an infinite amount of opinions. It may not even make a measurable difference. However, if we remain silent and still for too long we’ll never know. We’ll never have the opportunity to be a part of the many tiny or humungous steps that do create a difference. If Freedom Fighters hadn’t made the first move to literally climb steps onto buses, the Civil Rights movement may have been quite different.
We are blessed to live in a world where opportunities continue to present themselves until we learn from them. I’d like to think I learned a little something from these youth and the next time I’m presented with the choice to remain silent or advocate, I remember them and choose the latter. I hope that the next time they’re presented with the choice they’ll continue to have that same courage I witnessed, and I hope that everyone who reads this has that same courage. If you have to fear anything in life, fear silence and immobility not compassionate action.
Amanda Stemen is the Education Staff Writer for Social Work Helper who will also make her fair share of contributions on mental health. She received her MSW from UCLA and also has her MS in Recreation Administration. She is passionate about the promotion of mental health through the creation of a life worth living which is also evident in her personal blog www.haikuthehelloutoflife. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.