Will I Participate in the March 14 National School Walkout?

Usually, I do not support walking out of classes as a way to make a statement. I generally believe that it is self-defeating to hamper one’s education and the education of others.

In 1988, I was able to whole heartedly walk picket lines to support the Clerical Technical Union strike at Michigan State University because the union explicitly stated that they wanted faculty members and students to cross picket lines. Had they tried to stop classes from meeting, my office mate and I would not have formed Graduate Students for CTU nor would I have walked picket lines with the strikers.

Yet, I find myself in the surprising position of supporting the National School Walkout on 14 March 2018; a walkout scheduled to last just 17 minutes.

Because March weather in Michigan is extremely unpredictable, I have worked with some of my colleagues to reserve a warm room where students who choose to observe the walkout can gather. No program is scheduled. We are just offering a warm space to support our students.

This past weekend, my brother asked me if I would reserve a room to support a national walkout in support of gun rights activists. I was not comfortable answering a hypothetical question because I would first want to see how such a walkout was being promoted, the goals of the walkout, and so forth. But I was able to tell my brother that I have previously supported students who took political positions with which I disagreed.

For example, in 2010, the Schoolcraft College Young Republicans invited all of the Republican gubernatorial candidates to come to our college to meet with students. To help pay for the costs of these visits, they held a swing dance fundraiser. College policy required that they have a faculty member attend the event. They asked me.

Why would the young Republicans ask a liberal Democrat to “chaperone” their fundraiser? Because they knew I would. Although I joked with them that I would never vote for any of the candidates they were bringing to campus, I thought it was great for our students to interact with the men and women who wanted to be Governor of our state. One of those candidates, Rick Snyder, was elected and has been Michigan’s governor for eight years.

Will I participate in the March 14 walkout? As I am writing this, I don’t know the answer because I have not had the opportunity to discuss it with my students. I am teaching a small Monday/Wednesday class and, from previous discussions, I believe that all of the students will want to walkout. If I am correct, I will walkout with them. But I am not going to make my decision based on an assumption.

During class on Monday, March 12, we will discuss what we—as a class—will choose to do from 10:00am to 10:17am on March 14. If my assumption is correct, we will walkout together. If my assumption is not correct, we might decide that (1) I will join the students who walk out, (2) that I will remain in the classroom with those who choose not to walk out, or (3) that we will all stay in the classroom together even if some of us want to walk out. If I truly believe in supporting my students, I need to follow the lead of those students with whom I am scheduled to meet during the National School Walkout. If they are not in unanimous agreement on whether or not to support the walkout, they will need to come to a consensus as to where their professor will spend his time on Wednesday.

    –Steven L. Berg, PhD


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