Student walkout a teaching moment

Student walkout a teaching moment

When four unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War were killed by National Guardsmen in 1970, millions of young people decided enough was enough.

I was a journalist in a college town when that happened. I saw and reported on the occupation of a U.S. post office by hundreds of students.

The students were raw, angry, hurt, unbelieving that American troops would fire on American students.

Inside the post office, the protest was intense and, to some, frightening.

Students made their case against the war forcefully, but respectfully and peacefully.

It all could have turned out differently. Police could have been ordered in to clear the building, but the chief decided otherwise. Others could have directed the protest toward violence. They decided otherwise. No one was injured.

The protest was effective, a small part of a nationwide protest by millions of high school and college students that changed the way Americans thought about the war.

As students prepare for a day of walkouts in reaction to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., I hope they are met with similar compassion and wisdom. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has made good suggestions in an open letter to schools.

The ACLU encourages schools to interpret attendance policies liberally, allow ample opportunity for public discussion on campus, foster discussions among students with different views and provide historical context.

It's a teaching moment, for the students and for us all.

JOHN PALEN

Urbana