The ongoing protest against the coming war in Iraq entered a new phase recently when a group of students began petitioning for a walkout from classes on a designated date. In conjunction with this walkout, a teach-in will be held to discuss the problems of war in Iraq. It would be too much to say this proposition dismays us: we support protest both in principle and in many of its manifestations. All the same, the walkout comes off as a bit misdirected.
Innovating beyond conventional methods of protest is understandable, even praiseworthy. More than once, political figureheads have evinced apathy towards the cookie-cutter picket-line approaches. We have even criticized protesters in these very pages for responding to disparate political situations in eerily similar ways. In this vein, the proposed teach-in is surely an excellent idea. It stresses the importance of a thoughtful, focused approach to our foreign policy, be it aggressive or otherwise.
But by walking out of other laboratories of education in order to pursue this teach-in, students and particularly teachers–whose decisions to leave classrooms affect many more people–are getting ahead of themselves. The impetus for prioritizing pressing political matters over, say, Art History, is plain enough, but that doesn’t mean the two debates can’t coexist. Realistically, the idea that one must eschew learning in one area to foster it in another is patently absurd. Any responsible student should place a premium on classroom activities, and sacrifice them only when it is absolutely necessary.
The importance of a symbolic gesture should not be ignored; students can make only so many overtures that will get the attention of authority. Still, we should take care to preserve the spirit of protest: to encourage debate, not silence it.