How much responsibility do the public and private school systems have in raising our youth in good morality?
As a teacher I asked this of myself every day, and as a parent reflected on it every night. Most people expect their children to learn how to become well-rounded, kind individuals, able to navigate acceptance and differences while looking to their teachers as role models. At the elementary/primary level, this reality is easy to uphold. The students are young, excited to learn, and excited to share, love, and play with their classmates. Moving up to the middle school years can be a completely different experience, however. What happens when the schools drop the ball on morality?
My own middle schooler is a thirteen-year-old girl who, like all of her friends, is exploring what it means to be every gender and of every sexual orientation there is to be. About a week ago, a boy in her class called her a fag. He also passively aggressively told her that women belong in the kitchen, "...that's where they need to go and stay...," and that "fags, gays, and transexuals don't deserve rights or insurance." At least he's firm on his political views.
As you probably cannot imagine unless you know my daughter, she was very upset (some would say overly upset), got into an argument with him, which went nowhere, and then reported it to her teacher. Nothing was done.- regardless of a call to the school, and two days later, the boy repeated the behavior. *
After a group of girls got so offended that it ruptured into classroom yelling, a second report about the targeted statements from the little dude was made, and I find myself talking to the counselor who is outlining a circle that she plans to have with my daughter and this boy so they can talk out their feelings. Well, they did talk out their feelings, and in the end, the boy said that it was just 'his sense of humor." The teachers bought it, he apologized to my daughter, case closed.
Yesterday the kids were learning about the Trail of Tears. My daughter's Social Studies teacher has a special connection to this unit as her own Grandmother traveled to the grand State of Kansas on the Trail of Tears. Being a teacher, I recognize her genius tactic to make personal connections to the curriculum to get a good class discussion going. Thus enter our old friend discrimination from the mouth of no other than our homophobic friend from last week. "My relatives came here on the BOAT!" boasted this little guy, with the tone of pride and of having made a point. - The boat he referred to is the one that his ancestor settlers came on before conquering this great continent.
My mouth dropped and I wasn't even in the classroom to witness it. It dropped in the car hours after it had even happened.
My stomach dropped for the Social Studies teacher.
My faith in the gigantic school system fell to the floor of the car with the rest of my guts and sanity.
Not only does this guy know passive-aggressive commentation on the level of Graham Norton, but he really knows where to stick it so it hurts!
At this point, we know this young man's position on slavery, as he had made his views of the attempt by the Kansas-Nebraska Act quite clear weeks before in the same classroom. He obviously has an audience. (History lesson: The Kansas-Nebraska Act attempted to divide the huge chunk of land which now make up the two states with the intent of creating a larger pro-slavery population.)
The hate. The comparison. The discrimination staring this teacher and all of her students in the face astound me. The disrespect present in this situation makes me sick to send my kids to school, but I know nothing will be done least someone feels like making a literal federal case out of freedom of speech in middle schools. Side Note: the public school systems DO NOT want to do that. They don't have the money for it.
So what can this teacher do?
She can complain to her principal, who will follow procedures that include a ban on suspension; She can call his parents and receive an apology with no change in the boy's behavior; She can request that the counselor do another circle of feelings events for him. Will any of this be enough? Teachers and administrators alike live in a world that presents them only with options to please one and not the other.
Of course, the school cannot approach this boy's parents and ask that he keep his opinions to himself. But that's not the real problem. Opinions in all of us differ, yet our morality keeps us kind to others. The real problem is that this child of 12-13 years enjoys getting attention by insulting others. This is the world he knows. Yet it is such a sensitive and personal topic, counselors wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot foot pole in fear of insulting the family. This is seen as a "family" problem.
Some would say the family is what the problem is here. But that only pushes more judgment to the situation. People can't be told how to think, therefore they really can't be told how to act, and more and more, our youth is realizing this and rebelling in every way they can just as we did 20 years ago.
Where do the school and the home end? Where does community responsibility step in to promote peace and understanding proactively? 12 years in those trenches taught me that school systems are set up to watch a kid go down the path they choose without any logic being applied to situations like this. Does this kid really have to wait to get fired from his first job for leud comments before someone finally helps him turn his social light bulb on?
What we have here is fear to act.
"Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men."
Let us all respect this child's and (most likely) his parents' view on the world, however, the line is crossed when he uses those views to insult and shame others. While we hold our respect for these differing views, we must also hold our respect for ourself, and decide where the teachable moment is here. This kid may need a courageous conversation to understand the world that really exists around him, and the future's not going to go easy on him if continues to insult others in these ways.
It's not that his opinions really hurt, nor is it for us to judge them right or wrong, but it is his act of purposely hurting someone else that makes turns this from freedom of speech to targeted bullying. To live in an air of personal entitlement is the most destructive part of our culture and society, and this kid is handing it out like free tickets to his comedy show.
Last question: Who's plate does this sandwich land on?