The following piece was written by Jordan McCray-Robinson. She is an 8th grade student at South Orange Middle School.
On Thursday, May 25, 2017, two hundred and eighteen South Orange Middle School 8th grade students went to Washington, D.C for our annual trip. Many schools go to Washington every year but our trip was different. Our 8th grade had the opportunity to take a picture with the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The 8th graders also had the option not to participate and I decided not to take the picture as did many others of my grade. I decided I wasn’t going to be used as a publicity stunt.
On Friday, May 26, our decision whether or not to take the picture went viral, making national news. On Sunday, May 28, in Mr. Ryan’s Instagram comment section, my peers and I were criticized about our reasoning behind not taking the picture. We were called “losers,” “stupid” and “brats.” One man wrote, “How did those 8th graders get so brainwashed to understand the politics of today and decide who is villain. I suggest this is the work of the teachers… useful idiots that they are.”
I spoke with a teacher who would like to stay anonymous about the comment that had been made and this is what she had to say: “As I always tell my students, my goal as a teacher is never to tell students what to think. I do everything I can to provide all my students the critical thinking skills and opportunities to form their own opinions. In my classroom alone, I have seen students provide different, conflicting opinions when it comes to debates and discussions. Not only that, but I have seen my kids respect each other even if they have different opinions. Young people are capable of so much, especially in terms of formulating their own beliefs and stances on issues that affect the world around them.”
I am here to tell the nation that although we’re only in the 8th grade, we have our own thoughts and opinions. My teachers did not influence my decision not to take a picture with Mr. Ryan. I decided I didn’t want to take a picture with someone who doesn’t have my best interests in mind. Mr. Ryan and the administration want to cut health care for 23 million people. Am I one of those U.S citizens that will be affected?
I am glad the story was covered by the national news and a fellow student Matthew Malespina was able to speak on our behalf. I also think it’s important that kids of different backgrounds are able to speak out about why they decided whether or not to take the picture. I decided to sit down and interview several students.
I spoke with Livvy Krakower who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Krakower wasn’t in the picture and this is what she had to say, “I think it’s more than just a picture, If I was in the picture I would feel like a hypocrite due to the fact of his anti LGBTQ+ rules, as a member of the community I felt like I would be betraying myself.”
Students couldn’t escape criticism on the internet whether they decided to take the picture or not. I also interviewed another student Tristan Reynolds who is an African American male student who was in the picture and this is what he had to say, “I was in the picture because I felt like it would be cool to be in the picture with the Speaker of the House not necessarily because of his views but because of the power of his job. I think a lot of people on the internet didn’t understand the situation and took the picture out of context and thought we were in the picture to support him — which many of us don’t.”
A lot of people mistakenly assumed that everyone in the picture supported Paul Ryan and the administration. Another student who wanted to stay anonymous said, “I was in the picture and I took a picture with him because he’s third in line to be the President and he’s a powerful man in our government even though I don’t support him. We were also under the impression that we would be able to ask him some questions. After the picture, he signed someone’s Declaration of Independence, then got in a car and left.”
I, for one, think it’s ridiculous for adults to shame kids for being politically aware and not being afraid to express ourselves. I think it’s not only rude, but ignorant to tell a 14 year old that they’re not entitled to an opinion because “kids have no experience in the real world, so who should care about what they think or say.”
Excuse me?! If I’m not in the “real world,” where am I? I have the same right to express myself as everyone else in this country. Why shouldn’t I be able to show how I feel about what the current administration has been doing? If I was 32 years old and decided not to take a picture, I am guessing nobody would criticize me or my opinion because of my age, so what gives so many adults the right to do so now?
Another woman in online comments wrote, “Disgusting Disgraceful lack of respect. I’m ashamed of those students, teachers and parents.” I respect my elders and Mr. Ryan, but I will not take a picture with someone who stands behind a president who wants to ban Muslims from the country because they worship differently. Why should Muslims or anyone else be banned from this country because of our president’s lack of understanding and compassion for people who aren’t white, male or Christian?I respect views and opinions that differ from mine and I expect the same when it comes to my opinion.
I will not tolerate my peers and I being shamed for voicing our opinions. My generation is the future. I will be working and living in a society created by today’s decisions. So why shouldn’t I be able to speak my truth?