Reports of the demise of civics education are greatly exaggerated.
For the past month since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, many teenagers across the U.S., motivated by shock and fear, have been living out the concepts in their government textbooks.
Students in New Albany petitioned their government, in this case the school board. Dozens of teens in Bexley sat down with school administrators to negotiate how best to express themselves.
High-schoolers in Columbus, Bexley, Westerville, Olentangy, New Albany and elsewhere are getting ready to peacefully assemble at 10 a.m. on Wednesday by walking out of class and doing other activities to draw attention to their cause.
"Probably, collectively, this has been the most mobilized any group of young people has been in a long time," said Mike Klein, a former member of the New Albany-Plain Board of Education.
"To watch how they communicate, it's really fascinating," Klein said of the changes wrought by social media. "They can talk to each other in real time — whether they're in Florida, California, Ohio or wherever. ... It's something my generation wouldn't do, or maybe even couldn't do."
Klein's eldest daughter, Loren, is one of the student leaders of the walkout and of a group that took anti-gun signs to the New Albany-Plain school board meeting on Monday night. Three students asked the board to amend their meeting agenda to vote on a resolution recently approved by the Ohio School Boards Association calling for more mental health resources from the state and federal governments and increased school safety measures.
Board members said they would talk about it — but not that night. They did come out and shake the hands of the students, thanking them for speaking up.
Loren Klein said she wasn't disappointed. She was "sort of expecting" that response. "I'm glad they're discussing it," she said.
New Albany-Plain does not endorse the walkout and is counting it as an unexcused absence, Superintendent Michael Sawyers told board members on Monday. As an alternative, another group of students has planned a peace rally in the afternoon, but the district is leaving the decision up to the students and their families.
School administrators are treading lightly as far as planned walkouts are concerned. They don't want to be perceived as taking a side politically, and they are concerned about students getting hurt during a demonstration.
"We're asking our staff and school leadership to keep a focus on maintaining a safe environment for them as they exercise their rights to be heard," said Westerville schools spokesman Greg Viebranz. Kids won't face any discipline for participating, but the district isn't arranging things, either.
Bexley High School students went to Principal Harley Williams about their plans. Tess Stuber, a senior, became a driving force behind that school's walkout after seeing on social media that students around the U.S. were organizing. She banded with the Social Justice Club and the Student Council to avoid duplicating efforts.
"I think (we) recognized we needed to do something long term," said Chyna Borja, head of the school's Social Justice Club. A walkout works to raise short-term awareness, she said, but the long-term payoff is a line of communication between students and staff.
No one should feel pressured to walk out, said Rose Thomas, Bexley High's student council president, and those who do walk out are agreeing to the consequence of an hour-long detention, the same as any student who cuts class. Without a punishment, the students said, the civil disobedience loses its point, and it's important the district not show favoritism.
If Williams doesn't punish the demonstrators supporting Parkland, "he has to (allow) it for every cause," Thomas said.
In addition, a Bexley social studies teacher will host a lunchtime lesson on gun violence and the strategies various groups are proposing to combat it. A current or former legislator will be invited to teach students how to craft a compelling letter on whatever topic they might care about.
"It makes sense that we're developing citizens at the same time," Williams said.
The Bexley teens reject the notion that their generation doesn't know or care about current events.
"I hear that from adults all the time," Thomas said. "We just need to have outlets."