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Student doesn't like being political tool

I haven't found a response yet to my offer to Oceana High School in California to explain why it scheduled a daylong protest and discussion of school budget cuts, instead of using that time for English, math, science and social studies. I have however received this letter from an Oceana High student, which speaks for itself:

Dear Mr. Mathews,

My name is Megan, and I am a student at Oceana High School in Pacifica. Our school recently participated in the statewide Day of Action, where students of all ages protested budget cuts, or should I say, were practically forced to protest budget cuts.

"What do you mean, your teacher didn't make you go?" Were the first words out of a friend of mine's mouth when she got back from the beach where the students had been demonstrating. I admit, I was confused. Why would a teacher make one of their students attend this, knowing that it was a political action? I held my tongue though, and said nothing, because I didn't want the other kids to start talking.

Frankly, I am not a political kind of person. But, I do think that making students into political tools is wrong, even though I have no real view on the matter of budget cuts. Maybe I don't understand the severity of the financial difficulties as well as the teachers do, but I think that I should have had the right to be educated beforehand, at the very least. The workshops explaining why what was being done was important weren't presented to us until after the protesting had already been done.

Making students take a political stand. Not informing the students exactly of what they were doing, nor the consequences of their actions. Not giving us any facts about what was being done until after the fact. Using students as a political tool. In short, what has happened on March 4, 2010 was nothing short of exploitation. I thank my teacher for not having taken part in this, and think rather differently of the teachers that did not do the same.

Megan Rose Pellien
Freshman at Oceana High School

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By Jay Mathews  | March 11, 2010; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  California school budget protests, Megan Rose Pellien, Oceana High School, student rejects protest  
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Hmm, I hope this is from a student. It doesn't exactly rear as a letter from a student, but I hope I am wrong.

Posted by: EricS2 | March 11, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

No letters...not a SINGLE ONE from a "student" opposing your opinion, Mathews?


Posted by: TwoSons | March 11, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Not so far, TwoSons, but maybe they don't know about it. I am more surprised the school didn't respond because I sent the principal a copy. And for Erics2, I looked up the student on the Internet and she appears to a real 15 year old person. Remember I quoted another student in the first post, and that one probably passed it around.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 11, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

She does sound like a student to me. She is being educated for free, but feels insulted that she has to get involved. She was not being used, her education is at stake.
Students don't understand that they are very lucky to get a good education for free, one hundred years ago that would not have been the case.

(I do agree that she should have been told beforehand, however)

Posted by: celestun100 | March 11, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I think it is a good idea to promote political involvement for students. If they don't do that when they are young, they will never do it. As I stated above, they should understand what they are doing. But it is not a waste of time.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 11, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Encouraging political participation in students who may have not have even a passing knowledge of politics is just posturing on the part of the adults coordinating these events. "Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it" comes to mind.

Posted by: leuchars | March 12, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews, you're old enough to ask this question. When Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council conducted their struggle against racial injustice in Birmingham in 1963 the campaign included a "Children's Crusade".

It is briefly described thus, "On May 2, more than a thousand students skipped school and gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The principal of Parker High School attempted to lock the gates to keep students in, but they scrambled over the walls to get to the church. Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area, to meet with the Mayor, and integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until arrested. Marching in disciplined ranks, some of them using walkie-talkies, they were sent at timed intervals from various churches to the downtown business area. More than 600 students were arrested; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old."

Think Dr. King was misguided for involving the child victims of racism in the fight against that scourge? I don't think so but I am sorry you have chosen to exploit one apathetic and self-centered young woman to stand behind in this fight.

Posted by: natturner | March 12, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse


I agree with you on this. I liked your example. I think it is important for students to get involved, it is their future that is at stake. I also am assuming that other students were better informed than the student who wrote the letter.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 12, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I think some of the commenters are being unfair to the student who wrote you, Jay. Is she apathetic? Perhaps. Apolitical? Admittedly. But is that a reason to force her to participate in a political demonstration with which she does not agree? Not at all.

Natturner brings up an important example of the Children's Crusade in Birmingham. There is a fundamental difference, however. In King's demonstration, students willingly chose to skip school; they were not forced by teachers or administrators to participate. Imagine if, in response to King, the leaders of the segregated white schools forced their students to leave school and demonstrate against the civil rights protestors. Would you say that they were doing the right thing?

If a student's parent thought it was important enough to have him or her miss school to attend, that is one thing. For a school to mandate it is very different. It's a matter of coercion. Schools should not be in the business of coercing political beliefs or actions, whether that is a Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer, or a protest.

Posted by: myerschris1973 | March 12, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

For natturner, great question, and it shows the difference in these situations. Those students in 1963 were acting by their free choice, on an issue that I suspect they had FAR more familiarity, having grown up in Alabama, than the California kids in 2010, who would have seen very little sign of discrimination or injustice, since the budget cuts don't in fact produce much difference in their daily school lives. If Oceana had given its students a chance to make up their own minds with a day of discussion that included all sides, and then let the students decide to protest or stay in class, i would have been happier.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 12, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

this is the girl who wrote this letter, and obviously some things need to be cleared up. yes, i am a student at oceana high, and yes i admit i am "apolitical." also the person from the first post, ian, is a good friend of mine from our advisory, and we talked about this at great length in class the day that he sent his letter, which was also march 4, i believe. sure, i'm self centered for standing up for what i believe in, but then i guess i'll always be self centered and wouldn't have it any other way. my sending a letter to mr. mathews wasn't me trying to say, "oh, look, protesting a good cause is so awful." and it was a good cause but i felt as though the means were not the best ones that may have been utilized in the situation. everyone's views are so differing, it's really fascinating to see as people share their ideas, very much so in the same way as i have shared mine. i hope that for those people who may have questioned why i wrote what i wrote, or even simply what i wrote, i have eliminated those doubts about my motives, and i am sure mr. mathews' are respectable as well.

Posted by: megrose | March 14, 2010 3:03 AM | Report abuse

natturner, comparing civil rights and desegregation to budget woes is doing a huge disservice to Dr King.

megrose, I'm with you. It's not a bad thing not to be political. This is the Washington Post - these people eat, breathe and sleep politics, so it's natural that they don't understand not wanting to get involved.

Posted by: reiflame1 | March 15, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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