I just submitted a post to the Kid Lit for Kids’ Lives project, which is collecting letters from authors, teachers, and librarians in support of the students speaking up and organizing in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Here it is below:
Dear Students of Parkland and Beyond,
You are amazing. I’m not just saying that to placate you or because it’s the thing I should be saying. I’m saying it because I feel it in my blood and guts. Want to know why? Let me tell you a story.
I was seventeen when the shooting at Columbine High School happened in 1999. I honestly don’t remember much about that day, but I do remember sitting in the gym the following Monday with every other student at my small school, fidgeting while some adults talked at us. One or two teachers grumbled about MTV and violent video games. I think maybe a few students got up to say something heartfelt and the vast majority of the student body rolled their eyes at them. “They’re trying too hard,” we said with a collective eye roll. “Why bother?” As far as I know, there were no rallies or walkouts in the weeks that followed, at least not in my town. My fellow students and I looked to the adults to do something, even though we were pretty sure they’d do squat.
It was the late-nineties, and this is how almost every teenager I knew responded to any sort of tragedy. I’m sure there were exceptions, but most of us just shook our heads and shrugged. “The world’s a messed up place,” we said. “What can you do?”
The level of snide apathy and resignation displayed by my generation infuriates me even more now than it did when I was seventeen. We failed you, and I’m sorry. But our failure serves as a counterpoint to your brazen courage, organized activism, and all-around badassery. You are not waiting around for the adults to do something. You know what a waste of time that is. So you’re taking matters into your own hands. You are leading the way.
If anyone tries to tell you that you’re trying to hard, or that your efforts are misguided, stare them down and know they are wrong.
Erin Callahan, Author
I’m not even sure this post captures the extent to which apathy and political ignorance were not just okay but actually COOL when I was in high school (I mean, jeezus, look at this). Or the extent to which it blows my freaking mind how much our culture has changed for the better since then. If you told seventeen-year-old me that in less than twenty years kids would be staging walkouts and storming social media in the wake of yet another school shooting, I would’ve laughed in your face (I also would’ve been like, “What’s social media?”).
Let’s not ever go back to a time when it’s cool to not care about anything. It’s not just sad, it’s dangerous. And let’s give credit where credit is due—cultural shifts aside, these kids are kicking so much ass.