8th-grader who skipped Paul Ryan photo op: We’re not brainwashed

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks to the media during his weekly briefing on May 18. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

One of the students who skipped a photo with House Speaker Paul Ryan last month penned an op-ed defending her peers’ decision.

Approximately 50 eighth-graders from South Orange Middle School in New Jersey opted out of a photo with Ryan last month during a class trip to Washington, D.C. The story drew national headlines, with some criticizing the students as “losers,” “brats” and “disrespectful.” Others said the teenagers were too young to have formed political opinions of their own and were clearly brainwashed by their teachers or parents against Ryan.

“Does anybody believe a 13-year-old kid understands the intricacies of what Speaker Ryan does, day in and day out?” wrote Jay Caruso on Red State, a right-wing blog. “Most 13- and 14-year-olds have neither read widely enough nor lived long enough to have fully formed, independent political views; they are more likely to parrot whatever they’ve learned from trusted adults,” wrote Melissa Langsam Braunstein on the Federalist, another conservative publication.

Jordan McCray-Robinson, an eighth-grader who chose not to take a photo with the speaker of the House, wrote at length Monday defending herself and her classmates.

“I am here to tell the nation that although we’re only in the 8th grade, we have our own thoughts and opinions,” wrote McCray-Robinson. “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. Mr. Ryan and the administration want to cut health care for 23 million people.”

In the piece, McCray-Robinson interviewed a teacher and multiple classmates about the trip, including some students who chose to be in the photo:

A lot of people mistakenly assumed that everyone in the picture supported Paul Ryan and the administration. Another student who wanted to stay anonymous said, “I was in the picture and I took a picture with him because he’s third in line to be the President and he’s a powerful man in our government even though I don’t support him. We were also under the impression that we would be able to ask him some questions. After the picture, he signed someone’s Declaration of Independence, then got in a car and left.”

A photo of Ryan with some of the students was posted to his official Instagram account with the caption “Got that #FridayFeeling.”

John J. Ramos Sr., superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District, defended his students’ actions last week.

“While we should all respectfully and appropriately acknowledge those in authority, taking a conscientious position about a photo op is within our constitutional right,” said Ramos in a statement. “We are proud of all of our students, who exercised their rights and chose whether or not to participate for their own individual reasons.”

“I respect my elders and Mr. Ryan,” continued McCray-Robinson, “but I 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? I respect views and opinions that differ from mine and I expect the same when it comes to my opinion.”

Asked about the incident by the Washington Post, a spokesman for Ryan said the speaker “always appreciates the opportunity to welcome students to the Capitol.”

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