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A Letter From Dr. Honig on School Walkout: “I’m sorry I questioned your commitment”

Photo+by+Jason+Beeferman
Photo by Jason Beeferman

Photo by Jason Beeferman

Photo by Jason Beeferman

Dr. Scott Honig, North High School English Teacher

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I owe you, the students of Great Neck North High School, an apology.

When I first heard weeks ago of a planned walk-out to commemorate the lives lost in Parkland, Florida in February and to advocate for common sense gun regulations, I reacted with skepticism.  I figured that about 20% of you would gather outside our beautiful, historic building with true civil action in your hearts and minds.  The 80%, I surmised, would join because it would be an opportunity to leave your classes and stand outside with your friends or fiddle with your phones without fear of the usual negative consequences of doing so.  I maintained that for a protest or civil action to have meaning, a measure of sacrifice must be present; a student activist must risk detention, suspension, or poor grades while adult protestors must weigh whether their actions will result in docked pay, job termination, physical harm, or arrest.  I still believe this to be true to a large extent, but what I witnessed at your walk-out event filled me with pride and hope.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning to join you all outside for your protest.  I did not have a 3rd period class that day, and I didn’t think it would be meaningful for me personally, nor did I want to endure the frustration and disappointment of watching a small group of student leaders try to coerce a larger group of students to remain silent and put their electronics away out of respect.  But, as is so often the case, curiosity got the better of me and I headed outside to see what was happening.  I walked outside just in time to hear Oliver Pour greet the gathered mass, a phalanx of bodies with a few oaktag signs suspended up above.  I joined other teachers as well as counselors, administrators, and support staff in forming a collective ring of protection around you.  From the other side of the iron gate, I heard the names of the 17 victims read off once a minute, but I heard not a sound from another student.  I saw a balloon released into the air with each name read I saw not a cell phone or iPad distracting you from the solemnity of the gathering.  From behind me across Polo Road I heard a News 12 reporter commenting into his microphone about the importance of what you had organized.  A little distracting, this situation nevertheless reminded me that the whole country was watching and listening to what you brave and compassionate young people had to say.

Like me, many of you noticed the American flag fluttering with the brisk wind that carried your balloons to the heavens.  It snapped this way and that against the cloudless sky, as though your silent demands were stirring America’s democracy into action.  We can only hope that turns out to be the case.

On Facebook, I posted a wide angle photo of you all standing before the majestic spires of our school’s entrance and I wrote: “Now THIS is what real democracy looks like.  For the first time in a long time, I am optimistic that the youth of this country will make things better.  Proud of our students today.”  And I mean it.  So I’m sorry I doubted your sincerity.  I’m sorry I questioned your commitment.  I’m sorry I was ready to challenge your convictions.  And for those of you who chose not to participate, remaining in your classes, I commend you for knowing yourself well enough to make the choice that was right for you but at the same time that respected your peers and the movement.  I am inspired by you all.

With pride and hope,

Dr. Scott Honig

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A Letter From Dr. Honig on School Walkout: “I’m sorry I questioned your commitment”