The response of the student survivors to the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., that took the lives of 17 of their classmates and teachers, and left many of them traumatized, makes it clear that, while these might indeed be issues for some, the kids are doing a lot better than we thought.
The evidence of this comes courtesy of the most recent issue of New York Magazine, where Lisa Miller chronicles how the student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have built what has turned into the most vital gun-control movement that the United States has seen in decades.
“Parkland, with its palm trees and man-made waterways, is an unlikely home base for a teen revolution, but that’s what it’s become, drawing like-minded rebels from across the county and the state to demand an accounting,” Miller writes, adding that the leaders of the movement, as it turns out, are the high school “misfits” — the sort of “kids who like to perform, who have scrutinized the president’s use of Twitter, who voraciously consume media of all kinds.”
When presented with a set of circumstances more horrific than anything the vast majority of us will never experience, it was the kids — the ones who spent too much time on social media, the ones not raised like French or German or Chinese children — who stepped up and assumed leadership. They let us know the adults had been failing them for a long time.
And they are right. We are failing them.
But we are not failing them in the sense that we have brought them up badly. We are failing them in ways that go far beyond our failure to protect their schools from gun violence. We have failed to provide our our children with a society that values their lives or well-being. That is what they are really telling us.
It starts from birth, where the United States is the only first-world country to not guarantee paid leave for new mothers. Childcare remains impossibly expensive, with the costs so high almost one-third of parents needing to pay for it say it’s caused financial hardship. This leaves children vulnerable, and sometimes placed in subpar care situations that are all anyone can find or afford so their mothers can return to work.
Education is so little valued that our public-school teachers earn 60 percent less than other professionals with similar educational attainment, according to a report released in 2017 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In West Virginia, where a statewide strike is entering its second week, teachers earn on average about $45,000. In Oklahoma, where teachers are also reported to be discussing a strike over pay and working conditions, school budgets have been so decimated many districts have implemented a four-day school week.
Higher education has hardly been spared. A combination of falling state support, soaring tuitions, and inadequate patrolling of predatory for-profit institutions that offer less than adequate educations has sent student debt soaring. A majority of all college graduates now owe money on student loans, with nearly half needing to pay back $20,000 or more.
And then there is gun control. Death by gunshot is the third-leading cause of death for children in the United States, where there have been an estimated 188 shootings at schools and universities since 2000 and where there are so many accidental shootings involving guns and children that the Post actually ran a headline in 2017 that read: “American toddlers are still shooting people on a weekly basis this year.” (This, in a country so crazed about individual child safety that parents are urged to buy bumpers for coffee tables to prevent injuries to children learning to walk.)
The response by many on the right to children — okay, teenagers — speaking up about guns and how we fail to value their lives — has been to turn on them. Conspiracy theories have abounded that the teens were so articulate, they must be “crisis actors.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) excoriated both sides in the debate for viciously attacking each other — including, presumably, the Parkland protesters — and blamed the parents for it:
But, as student Sarah Chadwick tweeted at Rubio, people like him are, indeed, letting the younger generation down:
Maybe the critics were right, at least in one sense. We did raise a generation of entitled children. In turn, those children grew up to believe they deserve better than what society has so far handed them. It turns out we taught them the right values after all.