“Why Shouldn’t I Be Able to Speak My Truth?” 8th Grader Who Refused Picture with Paul Ryan Defends Her Decision
Late last month, about 200 middle school students were given the opportunity to have a picture taken with dead-eyed House
Elf Speaker Paul Ryan. About half declined. At the time, one student, Matthew Malespina, explained his reasoning, “It’s not just a picture. It’s being associated with a person who puts his party before his country.”
To most of us, that sounds like a thoughtful, articulate, strong-minded young guy, right? Well, I’m assuming you’re not the kind of people who took to Paul Ryan’s Instagram to call these children “losers.” Or “brats.” You would definitely never write something like, “How did those 8th graders get so brainwashed to understand the politics of today and decide who is villain. I suggest this is the work of the teachers… useful idiots that they are,” right? You would never write that on a public post about children? Okay, good.
Unfortunately, a lot of people would, and did. One of the students, Jordan McCray-Robinson, asked her local newspaper if they would interview the students, to “show that they were well-informed” and not “brainwashed.” The editor suggested she write the piece herself, suggesting it would “be more powerful” that way.
So she did. She wrote a fantastic defense of herself and her peers, which ran in New Jersey’s Village Green this week. In it, she lays out her explanation for refusing the photo op. She and many of her friends are, in fact, well-informed on Ryan’s role in government, and how he plays into current issues that they care about. She writes, “I am here to tell the nation that although we’re only in the 8th grade, we have our own thoughts and opinions. My teachers did not influence my decision not to take a picture with Mr. Ryan. I decided I didn’t want to take a picture with someone who doesn’t have my best interests in mind.”
“I decided I wasn’t going to be used as a publicity stunt,” she writes. Jordan mentions health care as just one of those issues important to her that she sees Ryan undermining. “Mr. Ryan and the administration want to cut health care for 23 million people. Am I one of those U.S citizens that will be affected?”
She also says she “will not take a picture with someone who stands behind a president who wants to ban Muslims from the country because they worship differently. Why should Muslims or anyone else be banned from this country because of our president’s lack of understanding and compassion for people who aren’t white, male or Christian?”
Jordan also spoke to fellow student Livvy Krakower, who identifies as LGBTQ+ and also declined to take part in the photo. She told Jordan that this was “more than just a picture. If I was in the picture I would feel like a hypocrite due to the fact of his anti LGBTQ+ rules, as a member of the community I felt like I would be betraying myself.”
Jordan also spoke to Tristan Reynolds, an African-American student who did participate in the photo op. “I was in the picture,” he says, “because I felt like it would be cool to be in the picture with the Speaker of the House not necessarily because of his views but because of the power of his job.”
From the sound of it, has also faced criticism for his decision. “I think a lot of people on the internet didn’t understand the situation and took the picture out of context and thought we were in the picture to support him — which many of us don’t.” Another anonymous student said they were told they would be able to ask questions after the picture, but instead, Paul Ryan just “signed someone’s Declaration of Independence, then got in a car and left.” That student reiterated that not everyone who stayed in the picture did it because of their political views.
I can’t fault a 13 or 14-year-old for not feeling the need to investigate how this event’s optics resonated with their own political ideals. That feels like the expected default for kids that age in an exciting situation like this, getting to meet a powerful man. If they wanted to be in the picture, that’s perfectly fine, no matter their politics, if they even have any strong politics yet.
But for those students who are exceptionally well-informed, their participation in an educated civic discourse should not be maligned by adults who happen to hold differing opinions. Even if you disagree with their stance, how can you not not think these young people should be celebrated for their determination and political cognizance?
“I will not tolerate my peers and I being shamed for voicing our opinions,” Jordan writes. “My generation is the future. I will be working and living in a society created by today’s decisions. So why shouldn’t I be able to speak my truth?”
(via Washington Post, featured image: Shutterstock)
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