2 weeks ago, I published a post about the importance of supporting all of our students as they engage in various levels of activism. My rallying cry of the post was that we support all our students, and that all means all.
But, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are asterisks to catch-all phrases. This post is about that asterisk.
I stand by my words from the first post (I mean, they’re only 2 weeks old; humans change and evolve, but usually not that fast). But I think there’s something that needs addressing that may seem obvious to some, and may not to others.
I gave examples of supporting students regardless of the activist position they were taking. The examples I gave were perhaps loaded with emotion, but also were all of a certain type. The examples were for/against 2nd Amendment/gun owners’ rights and for/against the banning of books.
While there are certainly powerful responses to those topics, and a lot of passion involved, they all are opinions socially acceptable to hold (though certainly each carry their own set of consequences).
So let’s push the issue.
What opinions are no longer socially acceptable to hold? What opinions infringe upon the rights of others? When is holding a particular opinion actually harboring hate speech?
How do these examples fit in the “support the student regardless of their views” thought?
- A student group opposing the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
- A student group supporting the NRA
- A student group supporting the building of a wall along the US-Mexican border
Those are all political stances that exist in the US, but carry with them much more weight than the previous examples.
What about these?
- A student group that declares homosexuality is an abomination and supports gay-to-straight conversion camps
- A student group that declares the superiority of one race above another
- A student group supporting Richard Spencer and the rallies he has organized
Do any of these push into the asterisk zone where you cannot support the student because of the opinions they hold?
I cannot answer that question for every individual teacher. But I do know that the last three bullet points would be an absolute deal-breaker for me.
I can be a teacher who supports a trusting community by supporting my students in their opposing views.
I cannot be a teacher who supports students in actions that tear down the very fabric of that trusting community. I do draw a line. I do dwell in that asterisk. When a student supports a message of hate, I can no longer support that student, because hate has no place in a community.
Let me repeat: hate has no place in a community. And it doesn’t matter if the hatred is directed at members of the community or not. Directed hatred cannot be allowed to be a part of the communities we build in our schools.
Most countries have free speech laws. But many countries also have laws that limit that speech when it turns into hatred of others. And regardless of the level of those laws, we have an obligation to support our students and defend our students. When it comes to a point where I have to choose between supporting my students or defending my students against their peers, I will defend them.
And I will also let my students know why I cannot support them. Why I cannot give them space to meet. Why I cannot give them advice on how to get their message out. Why I cannot provide them with any assistance. Why I believe their message is one of hate, and why I believe that has no place in our schools.
Those will be incredibly hard conversations, and those students will likely lose all respect for me, as they very likely disagree. They will feel as though I have failed them. They will feel as though I am a hypocrite. The community will be damaged, and it will not be likely to recover.
I have to stop here. This post is getting too difficult to continue right now. The hardest thing I have encountered as a teacher is when I have been faced with a choice, and all options lead to a fractured classroom community. All options lead to fracturing the thing I value the most for my students. But sometimes, we are faced with just those sorts of choices. I am in tears thinking about it, and I must take time to recharge.
Next Saturday, I will attempt to have a post about hope in these situations, as well as what administrators can do to support their teachers who support their students.
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