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Should Kids Protest? The Case of New York City’s Budget Cuts

By Eduwonkette — June 09, 2008 2 min read

No one expected that Graeme Frost, a 12-year old who suffered brain stem injuries in a car accident, would become a political target after he delivered a late September radio address in support of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Commentators demurred that if a political party “send[s] a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game.” The episode raised difficult questions over the role of children in political debate. Are they mini-protesters, learning the ropes of democracy, or simply political pawns?

New York City is likely to encounter these thorny questions this week, as multiple flights of public schoolchildren are slated to protest at Tweed Courthouse under the auspices of the Kids Protest Project. Truth be told, my own view on kids’ budget protests is strongly shaped by my own participation in such protests as a kid. When we were in elementary school, we wrote letters. When we were a little older, a few of us piped up at budget hearings. And when we were in high school, we organized a hundred teenagers to fill rooms at Board meetings, and scared the bejesus out of the Board in the process.

We didn’t understand the larger issues, but we were advocating for our short-term interests. Wouldn’t each of us be marginally better off if our school had more dough? All of these experiences were formative in my attitudes towards political engagement, and I look back on them fondly - which is all a long way of acknowledging that I’m the wrong person to offer nuanced analysis on kids protesting budget cuts.

So I’ll leave it to you to tease this one out - isn’t this just like the Regents using a one-sided prompt on Teach for America? Or is it different because students’ short-term interests are served by garnering more funds? You can read letters to Chancellor Klein from kids at PS 87 below.

Dear Chancellor Klein,

My name is Danny, and I am a student at P.S. 87. My brother is coming into this school next year. It will be my 5th year next year in this
school.

The purpose of this letter is to stop you from taking money from the
schools. Would you like it if you were in third grade and the chancellor was going to take money from your school? I hope this letter will change your mind.

Sincerely,
Danny

***

Dear Chancellor Klein,

Hello. My name is James. I go to P.S. 87. I just heard that you’re cutting the school’s budget. I don’t want to be mean, but next year I’m going to be in the 4th grade, and I want it to be even better than last year, but it won’t be if you lower my and other schools’ budgets. There won’t be enough money for books (and I’m crazy over books) and chairs for sitting on, and pencils to last us through September to June, and a lot more reasons that I don’t want to talk about! So, please, stop cutting my and other schools’ budgets, so that I will have a wonderful 4th grade.

Sincerely,
James

***

Dear Chancellor Klein,

Hi, my name is Nicole. I’m a student in P.S. 87. It is a public school. Please do not cut anyone from the school, and please don’t take money from
the school.

Love,
Nicole

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