The walkup “movement” is dangerous. It’s not dangerous in principle, but it’s dangerous when treated as a “movement,” rather than the way kids should interact with each other at school.
Let me try to explain.
Leaving an encouraging note on someone’s locker would naturally seem like a good thing to do. And between friends, or between kids who want to become friends, it is of course a good thing. But this is not what the walkup movement is about.
First, let me back up to my own rancid experience in public school (grade school through High School). If a teacher had given me 17 blank sticky notes and told me to write something good about 14 students (my god 14 whole students!?) and three faculty members, I wouldn’t have known have had something honest to write on maybe two of them, but the rest I would have just written something generic. I simply didn’t know anyone in school. I might have kind of known 2, and if I stretched it I might have been able to think of another two names, but all of them would have been loosely defined as friends. Naturally, my locker wouldn’t have had many notes on it. I would have had a few notes, all from people I knew but didn’t know. And even if my locker had been covered in notes, I would have known virtually nothing about the students who left them.
Why? Because no one talked to me. Ever. And I was too scared and traumatized from school to try and talk to anyone else. I felt like I didn’t really exist, or that my existence made people uncomfortable. In fact, if I’d found a bunch of notes on my locker, I would have been angry. This should not surprise anyone who suffered through public school the way I did: without friends, terrified of everyone, laughed at, and generally avoided.
Why angry? It’s simple, looking at all those notes I would have thought “What, now you act like you care? You barely acknowledge me in the hallway, you ignore me in class, but you’ll say I’m “awesome” on a sticky note and leave it for me to find on my own so you don’t have to actually engage with me? Yeah, that’s grand.”
All this ranting has been building up in me all week. I see posts like the one above on my Facebook feed constantly, and they come from people I actually interact with on Facebook. People who know me. And they think this is such a great idea. I just can’t stand it anymore.
Granted, I went to a public school in the 90s, and don’t know anything about “preparatory High Schools.” Maybe somehow, everyone magically has friends at these schools, and no one gets bullied or shuffled into social cliques or pushed aside when they don’t fit into one of the molds, as I never fit. Maybe the school in the picture above is some kind of educational and social utopia. I doubt it, but who knows. I am, however, very confident that our public schools aren’t any different today than they were in the 90s.
This isn’t to say that the The Walk Up movement is a bad idea. It’s a great idea, just not as a “movement,” not as a protest, or as some kind of memorial or social statement. Bullied, abused, scared, lonely kids, don’t want a random note from someone they don’t know, someone who has made little effort to show any interest in their life. Putting notes on lockers does not help. In fact, just look at the picture: some lockers have four notes, some a few more, and of course that one locker, always that one locker, that’s plastered with notes.
Think about what this kind of display says to a kid who feels worthless. No one is saying that the notes are some kind of competition. The idea was not meant to show you how many notes you would get, compared to the kid a few lockers down. But competition or not, for the troubled student, it merely illustrates the fact of their own isolation. (again, even if I had gotten four notes on my locker, I would have wondered why these people never said any of this to my face, or why they didn’t think to sit with me at lunch or show any interest in me.)
The danger with the Walk Up movement, ultimately lies in the inevitable demonstration of social status (or lack thereof). But to be fair, that’s only because it’s being made too public. It’s being used as a social statement, rather than taught as a daily attitude. Be a friend to someone. A constant, faithful friend. Stand up for the oddball. Defend the defenseless. Sit with the outcast during lunch and ask about his/her day. Do this every day. Make this part of your personality. Genuinely care about people who are different from you. Kids appreciate notes from people who have shown that they care. Fifty sticky notes pasted all over your locker from people participating in a school activity, carries not only little meaning, but sends a confusing and potentially harmful message to troubled students.
Has anyone considered the very likely possibility that those alienated, bullied and abused kids may actually commit suicide rather than bring assault rifles to school and kill a dozen or more people? Maybe the focus of this movement should shift from gun violence to a study into why so many kids commit suicide.