K–12 Student Walkouts: A Legislative Remedy

Published June 3, 2024

National Review Online

America’s K–16 students have been swept up in successive waves of disorder and lawlessness for about a decade now. In late 2015 and early 2016, set off by claims of racism at the University of Missouri, campus protests punctuated by shout-downs and meeting takeovers spread across the country. Then, in 2017, triggered by the election of President Donald Trump, a wave of shout-downs drove conservative speakers off America’s college campuses, a situation unremedied to this day. Less noticed, but of real importance, in the months following President Trump’s 2016 election victory and well into the next year, anti-Trump high-school walkouts spread across more than half the states. While schools and colleges were largely shut down by the response to Covid during the George Floyd incident of 2020, that year saw America’s youth swept up in riotous demonstrations, statue desecrations, and attempts to intimidate conservatives. And this year, pro-Hamas demonstrators set up illegal encampments at colleges nationwide, took over buildings, and intimidated Jewish students, in some cases driving them off campus. Meanwhile, high schools in blue cities and suburbs have seen a rash of anti-Israel K–12 walkouts, many in coordination with college encampments.

Missing in all this has been any trace of accountability. Speaker shout-downs, college encampments, and high-school walkouts violate school policies and in many cases the law. Yet discipline is rare. On the contrary, campus shout-downs and quad takeovers are sometimes encouraged by faculty and administrators. More disturbing, K–12 student walkouts are often praised and in many cases directly authorized by schools as a form of “civic engagement.” Few Americans are aware of the extent to which civic education has been co-opted and converted into a pretext for political activism under names like “civic engagement” or “action civics.”

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Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Beyond his work with Education and American Ideals, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates on a wide range of issues from K–12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).

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