See, this is what happens when I ignore the news for a while. Generally, I like to keep an eye on educational news because, children are, after all, our future. But, I somehow missed news over last weekend about this 11-year-old kid being suspended for comparing somebody to Obama. And it wasn’t even Hitler.
Now, if you don’t have time to hit the link, allow me to sum it up: a local celebrity (a newscaster for the local tv station, actually) went to have lunch at his daughter’s school. Chris Schauble, the newsman, happens to be a person of color, and, for his job, is generally dressed in a suit. He also has short-cropped hair, a huge, friendly smile, and is tall and thin. I think you can see where this is going.
5th grader Grayson Thomas noted the similarity between his local newsman and President Obama, and, according to Grayson’s dad, told a friend that, “President Obama’s here at our school.”
Somebody heard the comment and told Chris’s daughter, who was interviewed by the principal, who then told the Superintendent, Chris Winger. Oh – but this was after the Principal was told by all the witnesses (except the girl who told Schauble – and who evidently doesn’t like Grayson anyway) that the statement was simply a joke, referencing the fact that the two men have a similar appearance.
Now, the Superintendent has gone on record saying that it wasn’t exactly what the boy said, but how he said it, that was the problem. According to Grayson’s father, when Winger explained the situation to him, the issue was that “what he was saying is that all black men look alike and that is racist.”
But let’s take a step back for a second. Winger wasn’t there. He has no idea how Grayson actually said anything. He wasn’t even the person who interviewed the witnesses – that job fell to Principal Candace Fleece. The result: He said/she said, in which Grayson and his friend told her what he said and meant, one girl said what she thought she heard, and one girl had nothing but hearsay from the other. So, not only was Winger acting on a third-hand account of what actually happened, but it was a third-hand account with two completely different interpretations of the event.
This is enough evidence to expel a student?
I’m not suggesting the kid’s an angel. What kid is? He got into trouble earlier for stealing, and was accused of making inappropriate comments to another girl (an unproven accusation, as it turned out, and one for which no action could be taken because witnesses all said it didn’t happen that way). No matter: even if the kid had punched another kid in the mouth, if he was punished for that incident, there is simply no way you can make the case that he should be expelled for this one based on two completely different interpretations of an event, and no evidence.
But the issue is far more troubling, to me, than a simple case of bad school policy. On the surface, I’d say you could make the case that Winger is simply pandering to a local celebrity and trying to save a little face for the school.
The real problem here is that what we seem to be looking at is a school that not only will punish kids for having unsanctioned thoughts and feelings, but also for a mere inference of such attitudes as interpreted by other students. In other words, at this school, a kid can be punished for being a racist. But, since that tends to be open for a bit of interpretation, the school will use what other students and faculty think you think as the basis for discipline.
The very idea that a child can be expelled or in some other way punished for what somebody perceives as racism is, as I said, troubling. For starters, racism is, itself, subject to interpretation. Somebody like Jeanine Garofalo would tell me I’m a racist just for having a fundamental difference of opinion with a person of color. Others will say I’m a racist simply by virtue of having been born white. So whose version of racism is the school going to punish?
Ironically, the school seems to be worried about their actions in this matter being misinterpreted. According to a press release:
The Newhall School District regrets that untrue statements have appeared in the media.
And by now, of course, there are those who will have noted this fundamental irony in this very post. “You are being unfair,” they are declaring, shaking their fists at their computer screens. “You weren’t there, and cannot possibly have all the facts! How dare you rush to judge this school, based only on hearsay and on just one side of the story?!”
To which I can only humbly reply, “Good point.”
(cross posted at r2streu.blogspot.com)