Viewpoint: Time to reflect, recover at East RidgeThe heated debate around a teacher’s support of students who used East Ridge High School’s morning intercom dedication to honor and legitimize the Black Panthers proves the imprudence of the incident.
By: Marisa Novak, Woodbury Bulletin
The heated debate around a teacher’s support of students who used East Ridge High School’s morning intercom dedication to honor and legitimize the Black Panthers proves the imprudence of the incident. Many students felt uncomfortable during the public address. Once known, concerned parents and stakeholders began questioning why a known militant group was promoted through a public monologue instead of through a classroom debate.
Principal Harper answered the criticism with a promise to avoid sensitive material in public addresses through personal monitoring. I believe we should support this as well as our students’ rights to debate controversial material.
To viewpoint writer K. Stanley Brooks’ disappointment, the issue is not about race. The issue is about fostering a learning community engaged in critical thought while ensuring that illegitimate and potentially destructive philosophies are not presented in ways which could be confused as endorsements.
East Ridge staff strives to create a respectful environment with a focus on relationships. The faculty understands that besides being experts in their content, they should also strive to be expert communicators. Anything which harms the trust that students and parents place in our educators hinders communication and can destroy the learning environment. The morning address to the entire student body is a special communication that requires the highest respect and scrutiny.
But it’s activists who profit from promoting racial tension, such as K. Stanley Brooks, who encourage settling this debate by stereotyping white people as wanting to “avoid dialogue about black people that they feel is uncomfortable.” Worse, he claims those who don’t endorse his personal viewpoint or condone his condescending rhetoric are “white supremacists.” He hijacks the public discourse with racist undertones while completely dismissing the violence and racism endorsed in his own position. He indeed has a different point of view; but not every point of view, and clearly not racism, should be extolled on morning announcements at our high school. The objections had touched not on the race of the Black Panthers, but their methods, some of which even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. abhorred. Once the group changed from a charitable neighborhood watch-group worthy of notice into a national militant organization, its legitimacy disappeared.
This was not a classroom dialogue or discussion; it was a message delivered over a public announcement. Mr. Brooks’ viewpoint criticizing the opposition to utilizing public, one-way communication, for a promotion of a radical group is not rooted in the concern of a tolerant education, but instead shows his motives as an extreme activist. No one disagrees that a fact based overview, positive and negative, of such organizations is legitimate, just as it’s legitimate to review the same with regards to any historically impactful group. But, to allow a communication which could be construed as a celebration of this organization undermines the mission of the school.
Clearly, no one challenged the value of Black History Month, nor studying the civil rights movement. What happened is that this public announcement redirected the tone from honoring African American heritage to something much less positive. It also raised concerns about properly educating students and preserving credible relationships between them and their educators.
In response to Mr. Brooks’ viewpoint, our community should trust in Principal Harper’s explanation that the chosen dedication was not intended by anyone to cause tension. But, lack of intention doesn’t constitute a pass for poor judgment.
Until the public is convinced that the sponsoring teacher values her relationship with students and her responsibilities as an educator over activism, she could remain under scrutiny.
Let this response to Mr. Brooks’ intrusion bring closure to the public debate. It’s time to let the East Ridge Community reflect and recover without further interruption.
Novak, a Woodbury resident, holds a master’s in education. She has taught at The Chicago Academy for the Fine Arts and East Ridge High School, and lectured at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.