Op Ed- A Teachable Moment
Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 5:39PM
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By Duwayne Gregory  

There are times throughout our lives in which we have opportunity to set aside our own personal feelings and authoritative judgment to prove a point. We call those teachable moments. 

It is a time when – as a parent, educator, boss or individual in a place of authority – you can look at a situation objectively, set aside prejudices that might hamper that objectivity, and go along with an idea with which you might not agree, understanding the broader lesson to be learned and illustrating respect for an individual’s need to express him or herself. 

School officials on Long Island had that opportunity on March 14. It was a teachable moment; an opportunity to show students that their feelings, their ideas, their need to express themselves was respected. 

A handful of districts wasted that opportunity by penalizing students for walking out for 17 minutes during their school day to send a message about gun violence and more importantly that they – as our next generation – have had enough following the murder of 17 innocents in Parkland, Florida.

This is not intended as a criticism. There were obviously reasons that those districts, which then suspended students for not following instructions that prohibited them from participating, believed the walkout was not a good idea. Perhaps it was the safety of the students, or the idea that the walkout was not manageable… all real concerns. 

However, many other districts permitted the students to express themselves, instituted measures to ensure their safety and created a manageable environment.

That’s where the trust comes in and the more important message. 

As a country we have experienced difficult times in our history. Certainly the 1960’s was among the most divisive; the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of our leaders. It was a time in which we believed the chasm would not ever be bridged. 

But we overcame. We disagreed, we argued and we expressed ourselves in any way we could – including sometimes violent protests - but we survived and as a result became a stronger - better country.

We are at a crossroads in uncharted territory. Our country is divided by so many issues, not the least of which is gun control. But we are a country that allows diverse positions; we permit discussion and disagreement and sometimes we are terrified that it all may have a devastating impact. But we move on in the hope that it will influence change.

By preventing students from participating in the walkout without penalty, school districts took away the right of students to express themselves in a way in which they saw fit. It was a moment in time…a spontaneous illustration of their anger and frustration with a government that has let them down and they had every right to do what they did. 

Movements such as this should be encouraged, not discouraged. The lessons learned are too vital to dismiss and too important to the growth and understanding of the differences that are part of our great country.  We should all be listening.  

DuWayne Gregory is Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer

Article originally appeared on Smithtown Matters - Online Local News about Smithtown, Kings Park, St James, Nesconset, Commack, Hauppauge, Ft. Salonga (http://www.smithtownmatters.com/).
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