Yesterday a high school principal transformed himself into a Tiananmen Square tank.
I've never witnessed such a beautiful act of bravery before in my life.
Dylan Anderson of Hampton, New Hampshire read about Governor Walker's underhanded tactics in Wisconsin and was outraged. He was especially moved by the idea that teachers had lost their collective bargaining power. Dylan, normally not a political activist by any stretch of the imagination, has a very firm sense of right and wrong. He will stand up for what he believes in. He learned about the national walk-out movement and decided he wanted to participate.
He spoke to his friends at Winnacunnet High School. They all agreed with him and said they would stand with him to show their support for the teachers. They planned the ten-minute walkout carefully. They made flyers that stressed the importance of conducting themselves in a respectful fashion. They made it very clear that the point wasn't to bail out of school early, and everyone would return to class in a quiet, orderly way after the ten minutes were up. They made posters to hold during the walkout. Dylan made an announcement on the school television station the next morning. This was the point at which Principal William McGowan had a truckload of opportunities to be an educator. This was the point at which McGowan chose to become a dictator.
During the course of the day, McGowan sat Dylan down and told him that if support was going to be shown, it would be done McGowan's way or no way at all. Dylan expressed his eagerness to participate in whatever McGowan had planned, but would also stick with his own plan. McGowan informed Dylan that if he walked out of class, he would be suspended. Dylan said he understood the consequences but would still show his support for the teachers in Wisconsin promptly at 2 p.m.
McGowan made announcements to the school stating that any student participating in the walkout would also be suspended, and that all teachers were required to take down the names of students leaving the classroom and report them.
At 2 p.m. almost every student in the school felt too intimidated to leave class. Three students arrived in front of the school at 2 p.m: Dylan, the school TV station videographer and the school paper's photojournalist. The first thing McGowan did was tell Dylan to go back to class. Dylan respectfully and calmly declined. The second thing McGowan did was commandeer the services of a handy police officer to remove the rest of the posters from the premises. The third thing McGowan did was take away the school videographer's camera and made him watch as he deleted everything on it related to the walkout. He then proceeded to bark at the little photojournalist who wanted to take pictures for the school paper. She was so frightened she had an asthma attack. While McGowan remained outside, he displayed no issue with the students on the second floor of the building who leaned out the windows to heckle Dylan. Though the hecklers were disrupting school, they had remained in class. That was just fine with McGowan.
In the end, one young man stood alone, in front of the school, McGowan, a police officer, and all his peers, holding up a poster with three words; "Voice For All." At 2:10 p.m., Dylan calmly thanked the second story hecklers for their support, and then returned to class.
Dylan is the only one in school who now has Monday off.
McGowan had a chance to teach students the importance of standing up for what you believe in without being belligerent. McGowan opted to teach students that if you color outside the lines, you'll be punished regardless of whether or not you're doing the right thing. McGowan had the opportunity to encourage an aspiring photojournalist to do precisely what a real photojournalist does. McGowan chose to introduce her to censorship. McGowan could have shown that he stands behind the school's proactive effort to put an end to bullying. McGowan showed the students that bullies get their way. McGowan could have shown students that their voices count. McGowan taught students that rather than a voice for all, there was a voice for only one: McGowan's voice.
Dylan's father firmly believes that his son learned far more by standing up for his beliefs than he could have learned in class on Monday. Dylan's father may or may not agree with what his son believes in. Dylan's father, however, firmly believes in his son.
Hampton, New Hampshire
March 12, 2011