Thirteen: the number of years that I have attended public school in the United States. One hundred and fifty-four: the number of school shootings in K-12 schools to occur during school hours since I started kindergarten, per the Washington Post. The Cold War and consumerism molded the baby boomers. Rapid technological advancement and the fall of communism defined Gen Xers. The rise of social media and economic downturn characterized millennials. And, Generation Z? Our defining influence is gun violence in our schools.
As a senior in high school, myself and other 18- and 17-year-olds are among the oldest members of Generation Z, commonly nicknamed iGen and the Selfie Generation. But even more distinctive than our dependence on the internet is our unique experience in schools foreign to all who came before us. Over the years, I have participated in countless lockdown drills, sat through five or six “real” threats, and watched as school and district administrators inadequately attempt to solve our school shooting problem because our lawmakers refuse to meet them halfway. Although school shootings are statistically extremely rare, the looming threat of their potential occurrence due to years of inaction from legislators shapes how children view their schools and how administrators formulate safety policies.
The school culture I have grown up in is vastly different from that of a person just a few years older than me. My brother, for example, graduated in 2011 and had the routine lockdown drill once a year. No single-point of entry. No mandates requiring classroom doors be locked. No concern that his school was a potential target for a shooter. But then Sandy Hook happened in December 2012 and everything changed. Our mass shooting epidemic infiltrated schools and districts, and states were forced to respond without sufficient support from the national government. As a result, fear of a school shooting became an underlying component of my generation’s educational experience.
Gun violence in schools represents a larger problem Generation Z must address as we come of age and enter adulthood: past inaction and resistance to change from previous generations. We will inherit a laundry list of problems to solve – gun violence, climate change, poverty and economic disparity, and so on. For whatever reason, these issues have spanned multiple generations, neglected and ignored by each of them. Decades of apathy, however, have primed Generation Z – refusing to allow it to go on – to change all that. Recognizing that many of these problems are reaching their breaking point and only continue to grow, we are gearing up to take on these challenges.
Our social conscientiousness and inclination to protest and question the status quo comes from influences like the fear of being shot in our school; no one should live like that and we are tired of being told we must. After Parkland, the nation rallied around high school survivors who led a movement known as March for Our Lives to demand comprehensive gun safety laws and the end of school shootings. Here in Spokane, I organized a local march alongside high school and middle school students from all over the city, managing to get 5,000 people to show up on a snowy day and march with us. We are channeling our frustration and dissatisfaction with problems like gun violence into positive social change and civic engagement.
Unfortunately, given Generation Z’s youth, we often face an uphill battle in achieving legislative change after garnering widespread support. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and even Olympia remain beholden to lobbyists like the NRA when it comes to the issue of students’ safety. Last week’s tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, for example, comes after several nationwide walkouts and demonstrations calling for Parkland to be the last school shooting in the United States. Hopefully, Santa Fe High School will be the last school to endure such anguish, but if our legislators’ poor response to Parkland, Sandy Hook and the 152 other school shootings since I started kindergarten is any indication, I doubt it will be. These tragedies will continue to shape the lives and experiences of American children in our schools until we all come of voting age and lawmakers learn that we are their constituents, too.
Caroline Avery is a senior at Lewis and Clark High School.
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