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We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
Should Students Protest?
by Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor
Above: Westridge students participate in the National School Walkout on March 14, 2018 to protest gun violence in schools and honor the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Over the last several years schools and parents have entered new territory with students staging large-scale walkouts, something not seen in many decades. At Westridge, the prospect of student walkouts and on-campus protests have led to thoughtful discussions among teachers, students, parents, and administrators. How do we manage civic engagement on a 4-12 campus spanning students of wildly differing developmental stages? How do we ensure student safety? How can we foster civil discourse on polarizing issues? How can we ensure parental wishes are honored? (This last question was a factor in the school’s requirement of walk-out permission forms beginning in 2018 for Upper School students.)
In the days leading up to the 2018 National School Walkout to protest gun violence in schools, friend of Westridge Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author who focuses on the adolescent development of girls, wrote a thoughtful piece in The New York Times on the benefits of protesting (and voting, volunteering, and civic engagement) for young people. In it she says, “Taking part in a single event—whether this one or another that matches the child’s political leanings—may not, by itself, alter the trajectory of an adolescent’s development. But the study’s authors suggest that positive, lasting outcomes may result if organized civic engagement helps young people galvanize their belief in their personal efficacy, connect to empowering social networks or cultivate professional skills.”
This aligns with Westridge’s educational philosophy. Among our primary goals for our girls is for them to discover their voices and feel empowered to use them. We believe that success, fulfillment, and happiness result from truly knowing yourself, your values, and what is important to you, and engaging with the world through your work, volunteering, conversations, and everyday life, in relation to this self-knowledge. Our educational program is designed to help girls in the process of self-discovery, a shadow curriculum, if you will, that infuses all we do in our classrooms.
And so―as we look toward the upcoming Global Climate Strike on September 20 (being organized around the world by a grassroots coalition of students inspired by School Strike for Climate and Greta Thunberg), we know it will bring growth for our students, whether they choose to participate or not. Their participation in a cause larger than themselves will nourish their growing sense of agency while teaching that often there are consequences to be weighed when taking a stand for what you believe in. For Westridge, it will bring continued learning about this new era and how it can best be handled as a school. Even when student activism presents difficult moments for our community, which it will, we will feel the pride of seeing young women stepping forward for their beliefs and acting to bring about improvements they wish to see for their community and society.
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