The ease with which students take over their schools marks a painful defeat for our society. Political groups who rush to exploit youthful exuberance at the slightest pretext, governments’ awkwardness in handling the issue and the public’s general indifference indicate a society that does not see the difference between right and wrong, between the important and the trivial, between the routine and the dangerous – a society that does not expect better and so does not try to avert worse developments. Sit-ins at schools (as at universities), ought to be the weapon of last resort after a serious struggle, when it is judged that the lack of education is preferable to that which is on offer, or when political conditions undermine education, as under foreign occupation or dictatorship. With sit-ins routine, we have to ask whether successive governments are responsible for an education system so bad that it must be scrapped rather than fixed, or whether some groups are trying to cultivate this attitude to serve their own interests.
Of course, students are right to be concerned about their safety, especially in the midst of a pandemic. But the government and state have a responsibility to restore some sense of normalcy without endangering citizens further. Keeping schools open is a difficult mission, raising the risk of further contagion, as we saw in Israel. Whatever concerns our children and everyone’s health ought to be everyone’s responsibility, the subject of a serious dialogue. Here, though, the issue is exploited by parties that want to recruit children, and that want, above all, to be able to accuse governments of indifference and incompetence.
The children lose teaching hours while learning the basic lesson of sit-ins – that disobedience, arbitrary actions and self-destructiveness are desirable means to achieve any ends. But the reckless use of sit-ins (as well as general strikes) has devalued the measure. It benefits only those who invest in disruption, while causing serious damage to society, especially to those in greater need of public education. Very few of us, however, are upset by the situation, as if this were a physical phenomenon or a sacred tradition. “Institutionalizing” sit-ins amounts to the abandonment of public education, to dereliction of duty by politicians, by teachers, by a society indifferent to its fate. The government’s wish to make up for lost teaching hours is a step in the right direction.