The scientific community believes the human brain does not reach full maturity until around the age of twenty-five. In the United States you are deemed an adult at the age of eighteen whereupon you can purchase cigarettes, vote, and enlist for military service. You can order a drink at age twenty-one after you have been smoking, voting, and serving your country for a couple years.
Americans under the age of eighteen must attend some form of school and are subject to the protection of the law as minors. In these schools, there is a balance of indoctrination into society and development of individuality. These two ideas conflict and coalesce into forming the next generation, the desire to fit in contrasted with the desire to fix and improve.Yet, when it comes to national discourse they are often told to keep their heads down.
Student protests, while one of the most common stories to cross the headlines recently, are nowhere near a new phenomenon in the United States. What comes to mind most frequently when considering student movements is the overwhelming amount of college students who have decided over the years that they were not content with the status quo, concerning everything from the civil rights movement to the acknowledgement of sexual assault. However, underage students have been protesting and gaining results for years.
In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, a 13-year-old influenced by the brutal battlefield coverage of the Vietnam War decided to stage a protest with her eighth-grade class. Her siblings, and other classmates, were going to wear black armbands to honor the dead on both sides of the conflict. The Warren Harding Junior High school in Des Moines, Iowa caught wind of the protest and decided to ban the use of armbands in school, and when most of the students went ahead with their plan, they were suspended. As the result of this, the American Civil Liberties Union took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. It was ruled that school officials could not censor student speech unless the rights of others would be disrupted. It was not a unanimous decision, in fact Justice Hugo Black made it a point to state that the case would help usher in “a new revolutionary era of permissiveness . . . fostered by the judiciary.”
Not long after, in 1968, thousands of Chicano students in East Los Angeles high schools sparked a protest and walkout that has left its mark to this day. These Mexican American students found themselves in schools that had some of the highest dropout rates in the United States. They faced overcrowded schools and low expectations for the future. Most of the demands were found in schools of more affluent areas: smaller classes, better libraries, no corporal punishment, and, perhaps uniquely important to this community, improved testing to ascertain the difference between a lack of English proficiency and a lack of intelligence. Of all the demands, the school board agreed to two of them, smaller classes and more bilingual personnel. While the ensuing conversations and actions were tumultuous and controversial, a year after the walkouts UCLA’s enrollment of Mexican American students went from 100 to 1900.
Throughout the history of high school students either creating or joining movements there have been similar arguments that students are not mature enough to fully understand the issues at hand. Yet many of these movements are to protect the rights of students to develop themselves into adults in a safe and inclusive environment. One movement that many high school students have joined has been the Black Lives Matter movement. Begun in 2013 in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, BLM has inspired many high school athletes to follow in the steps of Colin Kaepernick and take a knee during the national anthem. In some regions of the country, the backlash has been swift for students participating. Two high school football players were kicked off the Victory and Praise Christian Academy team in Crosby, Texas after one took a knee and the other raised his fist during the anthem. Their coach, a former Marine, told them that they were being disrespectful and that they should immediately remove their uniforms.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida are the latest student group to assemble in the wake of the school shooting epidemic becoming part of their lives. They have gathered together in historic numbers and caused a nationwide conversation. After losing seventeen peers, they no longer wanted to hear politicians say that it was not the time to discuss gun control. As is the case with student movements, there have been many efforts to tarnish them as individuals as well as collectively, however that does not seem to be silencing them. Going from the cover of The New York Times to the cover of Time magazine, these students pave the way for themselves as adults and the generations of future students.
The faces of the Parkland movement are Cameron Kasky, Emma González, David Hogg, Alex Wind, and Jaclyn Corin. Facing backlash at every turn, they organized and orchestrated the Never Again movement and the nationwide school walkout, March for Our Lives, which took place on March 24, 2018. Making concrete and specific demands of the politicians that their parents voted to represent them, they have demanded banning assault weapons, universal background checks, and more transparency of gun ownership records. Through their efforts, Florida legislators passed a bill that bans bump stocks, created a waiting period, raised the minimum age to buy a weapon from 18 to 21, and allows the police to take guns from the mentally disabled. Almost immediately, the NRA filed a lawsuit challenging the law, but at the end of the day high school students had managed to inspire a change in policy, and sixty-seven NRA-endorsed Republicans to vote for the bill.
While the scientific community has mostly decided that twenty-five is the age the adult brain is fully developed, the underage population has decided that change does not wait. Most recently, the Parkland survivors have called out the NRA for booking a hotel that restricted weapons at their conference, where Vice President Mike Pence called on the national media to cover the whole story, because more legally purchased guns in the hands of Americans will solve the problem. Meanwhile, the underage population watched on as the NRA presented more than twenty acres of firearms from some eight-hundred firearm companies after they donated more than $10 million to the 2016 Trump-Pence presidential campaign.