Our Children Marching for Their Lives in the United States

"Children are both the present and the future of every nation, they have needs, rights, and intrinsic worth that must be recognized and supported."

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~Excerpted from ACEI Global Guidelines for Early Care and Education in the 21st Century.

A Message From Diane Whitehead, Executive Director, Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI)

Today in Washington D.C., and in several locations around the world, our children will march. They will gather in cities and towns and they will walk side by side, together. They will speak about their pain, their needs, their hopes and dreams. They will march to protest gun violence in schools.

They will march out of sadness and grief and because they are frightened and frustrated. They will march because they have lost friends, loved ones, teachers and fellow students to senseless acts of violence. They will march because they feel safer together than alone. They will march because they have no other way to carry their message of despair to the world other than to become one collective voice and shout it out as loudly as they can, with a desperate hope that the world will listen. They will march because in one fleeting moment, with guns aimed at them and bullets flying past them, they lost the freedom to be educated without fear and they lost their childhoods.

The gun violence in schools in the United States has been a huge tragedy. Children and teachers gunned down and young lives cut short. There are feelings of anger and shock as a nation deals with the loss of its children to gun attacks.  Poorly formulated policies and reactions to resolve this issue, such as arming teachers with guns, may in fact just increase the exposure of children to gun violence.

In recent years attacks on schools have escalated at an alarming rate all around the world. These attacks take many forms including random attacks of violence such as shootings, vicious targeted and planned attacks such as kidnappings of school children, and schools that are caught up in the wars and conflicts around the world where schools are burned, bombed or otherwise destroyed. The United Nations says attacks on schools worldwide are on the rise with thousands of attacks occurring each year.

It is a disturbing reality that a new pattern of attacks has emerged that targets schools, schoolchildren, teachers, education personnel and other types of education facilities. These attacks are occurring for several reasons. Schools have always been viewed as safe and secure. They are reliable and steady community institutions that project hope for the future through the education they deliver to our youngest citizens. Destroying or disrupting school life disrupts and destabilizes the entire community.  It drains hope for the future away and brings darkness and chaos into a previously happy and orderly community life.

Armed groups may attack schools because they are not in agreement with the school’s curriculum, which may be teaching children more democratic and critical thinking rather than following a rigid political or religious doctrine. Sometimes schools are attacked because children themselves, who have gained access to dangerous weapons, have no where else to target their frustrations and feelings of hopelessness other than the one place where they know their cries of despair will get attention, in their own school. Finally, schools are often caught up in the crossfire and become the victims of conflict when school buildings are burned, bombed and destroyed either intentionally as an act of war or as an accident of war.

The march that is occurring today can be seen from two positions. One, it is a moment of pride as our children step forward in their moment of grief to express their feelings, claim their rights to education and express their desires for a more peaceful and kinder world. However, it is also a moment that highlights the failure of adults to protect our children, to understand their needs and frustrations, to safeguard their right to an uninterrupted and violence free education and to build a better world for them that will nurture their growth and development.

This is a moment in time that must be taken very seriously and never, ever forgotten. It is the day our children raise their voices as citizens to remind us all of the fragility of human existence and how much children need our love, support and protection.  The children march today to claim their dream of a future. As adults of every nation we must all take responsibility for ensuring that their dream can be fulfilled.

Anne Bauer