Thursday, February 02, 2017

Ethical dilemmas in the Trump era

The student made the swastika out of tape on a piece of paper and propped it against a recycling bin in a Stoughton High School classroom just before Thanksgiving.

What happened next underscores the difficult terrain educators face as they confront the increase in racist and anti-Semitic incidents since the November election. Three teachers, frustrated by a lack of clear guidelines for dealing with such a sensitive issue, responded in sharply different ways. One talked about the swastika in class. Another spoke to a student about it. And a third withdrew a college recommendation for the student who created the swastika.

But in the end, the teachers themselves, as well as some students, were disciplined.

Heightened tensions are forcing teachers and administrators to grapple with abhorrent actions few say they are prepared to confront. Students who mimic the behavior or speech of President Trump, particularly his rhetoric from the divisive campaign, may violate a school district's or state's antibullying laws. Parents from differing political perspectives may have competing views about what constitutes acceptable speech or behavior.

And teachers often lack guidelines for addressing these volatile situations, said Meira Levinson, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who specializes in educational ethics. "There is no one, clear, right answer for what to do," said Levinson, who is a former middle school teacher in the Atlanta and Boston public schools.

"How we deal with something we read as hate or bullying - although we often see that as the only question - that's only the first question," Levinson said. "So much of this is how do we deal with people's competing responses to the same incident, without having them snowball into further incidents."

Levinson and a team of graduate students recently launched teaching guides that use case studies - contentious situations school leaders have faced - to help teachers, parents, and administrators consider different perspectives and discuss ways a school might approach situations.

The presidential election has had a profoundly negative effect on some schools and students, according to a recent nationwide survey of more than 10,000 educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama organization that tracks hate and bias incidents. The poll, while not scientific, is believed to be the largest survey of educators about the election.

Two-thirds of those surveyed reported that administrators have been "responsive," but four out of 10 don't believe their schools have adequate action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias.

Half of those surveyed said they were hesitant to discuss the election in class because of heightened emotions. Some principals have told teachers to refrain from discussing or addressing the election in any way, the center found.

In Stoughton, several high school teachers urged administrators to speak out after the swastika incident in late November, according to the Stoughton Teachers Association. A girl, who is Jewish and who witnessed the incident, had asked the boy to remove the swastika. He did, but made an offensive remark.

The teachers asked administrators to send a letter home to parents explaining what happened, similar to the action taken in nearby Milton after several swastikas were discovered in the bathrooms of a middle school in December.

"By not discussing this with the entire community, parents were denied an opportunity to discuss this at the dinner table with their kids," said John Gunning, Stoughton Teachers Association president.

Frustrated by the inaction, the teachers took matters into their own hands.

The two teachers who spoke about the incident with students received letters of reprimand in their files, and the teacher who rescinded her letter of recommendation for the student who had made the swastika was suspended for 20 days without pay. She began serving that suspension Thursday, according to the union.

But administrators continued to remain mum, despite a statement by the union at a school committee meeting Tuesday and repeated inquiries from the Globe.

On Friday, Stoughton's superintendent, Marguerite Rizzi, who told the school committee Tuesday that she was unaware of more than one incident involving a swastika in her school, sent a two-page e-mail to parents describing two incidents.

In the second instance, which also occurred in late November, an image of a swastika was prominently displayed in a group chat involving several students on their phones.

The statement said that students involved in both incidents were disciplined but makes no mention of actions taken against teachers.

Rizzi's statement said police had been consulted and it was determined the actions were not hate crimes or hate speech.

"We at the Stoughton Public Schools are all committed to eradicating hate speech, and have no tolerance for racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or any other kind of bigotry or discrimination," the statement said.

Rizzi chastised, but did not name, people whom she said were inaccurately portraying the incidents, and said that created a lost opportunity "to teach our children . . . the importance of forgiveness."

She also said the Anti-Defamation League came to the school Thursday for a training session "to help us refocus on the aims of strengthening our safe, tolerant, peaceful, and thriving diverse community."

But one parent who saw a swastika on her son's phone in late November during the student group chat was horrified he had participated in that chat, and upset that school leaders did not act sooner. The woman asked that her name not be used because she is worried her son will face retaliation.

"I grabbed my son and said, `Honey, what's going on?' He said they took it down, it's just a joke. And I said, `This is not OK. It's not a joke,'?" she said.

The woman said her 17-year-old son is not biased or hateful. But she worries that he and his friends seem to have little understanding of the pain a swastika, long a powerful symbol of Nazi atrocities, evokes for so many.

"I don't know what the solution is," she said. "These kids just don't realize the severity of it."


Universities Cave to Snowflakes

By Walter E. Williams

One wonders just how far spineless college administrators will go when it comes to caving in to the demands of campus snowflakes. For those unfamiliar with the term "snowflakes," it is increasingly being used to characterize college students easily traumatized by criticism and politically incorrect phrases. They demand safe spaces and trigger warnings so as not to be upset by views that challenge their own. Snowflakes feel as though they must be protected against words, events and deeds that do not fully conform to their extremely limited, narrow-minded beliefs built on sheer delusion. This might explain their behavior in the wake of Donald Trump's trouncing of Hillary Clinton.

Generosity demands that we forgive these precious snowflakes and hope that they grow up. The real problem is with people assumed to be grown-ups - college professors and administrators who tolerate and give aid and comfort to our aberrant youth. Let's look at tiny samples of it.

To help avoid microaggressions, the University of North Carolina administration posted a notice urging staff and faculty members to avoid phrases such as "husband/boyfriend," which they claim is heteronormative, and "Christmas vacation," which "minimizes non-Christian spiritual rituals."

This winter, the Oregon State University administration will treat its students to a new class that promises to teach them about how blacks have historically resisted white supremacists. Professor Dwaine Plaza, one of three instructors for the course, said the idea was inspired by Trump's election, which he fears will take the country back to the 1960s.

The University of Maryland is hosting a series of postelection lectures on how a "commitment to white supremacy" gave Trump momentum and blaming "white America's spiritual depravity" for his rise to power. One of the topics will be "Make America White Again? The Racial Reasoning of American Nationalism."

At Pomona College, posters giving instructions on "how to be a (better) white ally" and stating that all white people are racist were put in the dorm rooms of new students.

Ned Staebler, Wayne State University's vice president for economic development, i.e., fundraising, declared that President Trump is a Nazi and his supporters are comfortable with bigotry. He said, "I'll say flatly that many of the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump did so because of his bigotry."

In response to a claim by Ben Carson - Trump's pick to be secretary of housing and urban development - that people have the right to display Confederate flags on private property, University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler tweeted, "If only there was a 'coon of the year' award." Previously, Butler informed us that God is a "white racist" and Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, was a "blood sacrifice."

Wake Forest University faculty and administration seek to make the university a sanctuary campus. Campus security will refuse to follow federal laws and will stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from pursuing criminals if they come onto Wake Forest property. This is nothing less than nullification of federal law. While liberals support nullification of federal immigration law, I wonder how they would respond to cities nullifying laws enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Snowflake indulgence has been fostered by the education establishment and, more recently, by federal law. One of the most popular features of Obamacare is its provision that children can remain on their parents' health care plan until they are 26 years old. That promotes prolonged adolescence, sparing the necessity for youngsters to get out on their own.

Some have criticized my lack of sympathy for snowflakes in the wake of their emotional trauma resulting from Trump's defeat of Clinton. Here's my question to you: How much sympathy would you have for those 18- to 24-year-olds who are in the military if they conducted themselves - on aircraft carriers, in nuclear submarines and in special forces - just as college snowflakes did in the wake of the Trump victory?


Why Millennials Could Become the School Choice Generation

When advocates make clear that school choice is about liberating kids from their zip codes, the message resonates.

Millennials could become the school choice generation—but advocates still have a lot of work to do.

According to a survey released by EdChoice in October, millennials are more in favor of many kinds of school choice reform—charter schools, voucher programs—than older Americans, but only when they are educated about these programs.

As I wrote in October:

Overall, 63 percent of millennial respondents were in favor of charter schools, and just 19 percent were opposed. The national average was 59 percent and 23 percent. This means that millennials were actually slightly more pro-charter than the average, though the difference is within the survey's margin of error.

That should be reason enough for school choice reformers to cheer, though some caution is still warranted: millennials held initially hostile views toward vouchers—just 33 percent supported them. But the survey asked the question twice: after it explained what vouchers were, support for them rose to 61 percent.

These results don't surprise me, because school choice reflects an important philosophy of millennials: that people deserve more choice and control over their own lives. Of course the generation that thinks Facebook should list 58 different gender options wouldn't be content with a non-choice paradigm for U.S. schools. Compared to older Americans, millennials are less likely to feel bound to follow tradition and stick to a set plan—they're more likely to move across the country, think outside the two-party system, and get their news from something other than cable. They're also more skeptical of the idea that the government restrictions on immigration are justified.

Philosophically, immigration is a lot like school choice. It's wrong for the government to force people to confine their activities to the place where they were born, and it's similarly wrong for the government to force kids to attend the school associated with the place where they were born.

When advocates make clear that school choice is about liberating kids from their zip codes, the message resonates with millennials.


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