Late last month, about 50 students walked out of their Detroit high school classes to stage a protest demanding higher quality education. While these students were exercising their rights to assemble and learning an important lesson about civil society, they were sadly suspended for their actions.
The students of the all-boys Frederick Douglass Academy in Michigan risked expulsion to fight against the school’s lack of teachers, unstable administration, shortage of vital school supplies — including textbooks — and educators’ abuse of sick days. For example, one math teacher has been absent more than 68 days of school, according to Fox. Students have gone long periods without receiving homework, without having teachers to lead their classes and without an enforcement of rules — on the first day of the 2011-12 academic year, only 55 percent of students attended class.
Commendably, the students are taking responsibility for their own futures and fighting against what they perceive to be inadequate education. When parent Sharise Smith’s son received an A in his geometry class “by default, just for showing up” and without even taking a final exam, her son — rather than accepting the grade and the good luck — acknowledged something was wrong with the system. These students decided to force the administration to address the fact that their school is part of the worst public school district in the nation, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Tevin Hill, a senior at the school, said that parents and students alike have complained to the administration about the inadequacies of the school but have been ignored, according to The Huffington Post. Thus, the students felt it necessary to stage the protest that resulted in their suspensions. The determination of these students — who chanted, “We want an education!” as they marched through Detroit — brings much-needed reassurance to the current education crisis in America.
Their plight and actions are similar to those of many students here at UT fighting economic injustices, such as the rising cost of tuition or budget cuts to important yet underrepresented academic departments. The students at Frederick Douglass Academy deserve an equal education to high school students in affluent areas. That these young men understand the importance of education and the creation and spread of knowledge is laudable and demonstrates a necessary and crucial shift in thinking.
Like other grassroots movements, the most influential representative of an issue is the person who is directly affected by the issue at hand. Now that high school students are becoming actors in the dialogue on the public education system crisis, we are likely to see greater mobilization and concrete changes.
Most importantly, these students realize the value of their education and are willing to risk serious consequences to ensure their right to it. During the protests, students spoke about their desire for younger students to have better opportunities for a satisfactory education than they had. With this attitude, these students and the rest of their generation will go on to be the future leaders of education reform in America. The rest of the country must follow the Frederick Douglass Academy students’ example and be willing to risk anything to ensure every student has a real education.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.