The first time I learned about the Bill of Rights was — I think — the fourth grade. The First Amendment seemed pretty uninteresting at the time, especially compared to the upcoming Valentine’s Day party.
As I got older, that changed. In middle school, we put it into context alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. We watched the videos of black people being attacked with fire hoses and having their civic and human rights violated. We learned about how they protested and made history and emerged victorious.
High school taught me that protesting was still viable, that there were still things that needed fighting for, that our young voices mattered.
In college, I became a journalism student, eager to join the ranks of those of the press whose rights are protected by the First Amendment.
In the wake of Parkland, so many of our youth have decided to stage walkouts. They are desperate for their voices to be heard. They are desperate for politicians to act. They are desperate to stop the slaughter of their classmates.
David Blair, a retired teacher, penned an open letter to students who thought about walking out.
“Dear students,” the letter begins. “I know you. I am a retired teacher of 24 years. I have taught you as 7th graders all the way through 12th grade. This is not a tweet or a text. It’s called a letter; lengthy and substantial. Do you really want to make a difference? Are you sincere about making your schools safe? Don’t walk out, read this instead.”
The letter, posted in its entirety by Jack Riccardi on the KTSA website, goes on to implore students to go befriend those who feel invisible, those who are outcasts, those who are alone.
“He could likely be our next shooter,” Blair wrote.
I’d like to preface this by saying that Blair wasn’t entirely misguided. He made some good points. We should spend more time immersing ourselves in the world around us, reaching out to those who need it and encouraging teachers to keep up the good fight.
But not every troublemaker, not every quiet student, not every kid who eats lunch by himself is going to become a school shooter.
Good intentions don’t outweigh negative consequences, so while I’m sure Blair meant well in his letter, the message he sends is abhorrent.
And, I’d like to point out, he vastly underestimates the power of our students. Not too long ago, I was a high school student. It’s entirely possible to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life and make your voice heard, too.
There were more than 300 school shootings since 2013. I sincerely doubt every single one of those could have been stopped just by making nice with them.
But all of them could have been stopped if they didn’t have guns.
And, let’s be clear to those of any political affiliation: If you have something to say, say it. If you have something to protest, protest. That’s why we have the First Amendment.
Andrew Atkins is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]