In the wake of the Friday murders of ten students at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan endorsed a radical plan to affect change: parent-led school boycotts aimed to change gun control legislation. Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed his fellow students with a pistol and a shotgun months after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 of his Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classmates with an AR-15 in Parkland, Florida.
After a former education department employee named Peter Cunningham wrote a Tweet that suggested that parents withdraw their children from school after the most recent shootings, Duncan chimed in and said that he and his family were “in.” Duncan has school-age children himself and currently works at Chicago CRED, an anti-gun violence organization.
“This is brilliant, and tragically necessary,” wrote Duncan. “What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”
It’s unclear that Duncan, a charismatic activist known for being an excellent speaker and basketball player is actually going to lead some sort of national boycott. If he does, he’ll have to contend with any number of obstacles, but mostly with parents’ competing schedules. Still, it seems likely he will be more involved with the gun control movement that gained momentum after the murders in Parkland, Florida. He told the Washington Post he will refuse to “doing nothing” and insinuated that he thinks drastic measures are necessary.
“It’s wildly impractical and difficult,” Duncan said. “But I think it’s wildly impractical and difficult that kids are shot when they are sent to school.”
American schools remain relatively safe, but they also remain some of the only schools in the world where shooting simulations are normal and fears of armed assault are well-founded. Still, the odds of a child being shot in school have gone down since the late 1990s even though roughly 200 kids have been shot in American public school shootings since Columbine.
Strangely, there is an example of parents boycotting schools, but it comes from the far right. The “Sex Ed Sit Out,” which started in Charlotte, North Carolina when a handful of mothers appalled by the “pornographic,” and “gender-bending sex ed” content pulled there kids, became a national movement — albeit not a very effective or reasonable one. For better or worse, those activist mothers were heard.
“This is not rocket science,” Duncan said. “This is not a difficult intellectual issue. What we have lacked is political courage, and we need to create the tension that allows us to break through on this issue.”