Fearing that their attire would be provocative to students of Mexican descent during Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), the principal of Live Oaks High School in Morgan Hill, California demanded that five students turn their shirts inside out. When they refused, they were sent home with an unexcused absence. What offensive image or message did their attire convey? The flag of the United States of America!
As you can imagine this stirred up quite a bit of controversy and groups ranging from the ACLU to the Tea Party came to the aid of the students and the principal was quickly forced to apologize. During interviews the students, two of which were of partial Hispanic descent, emphasized that they fully respected their classmates' rights to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and present the Mexican Flag, they merely wished that their classmates and the administration would respect their first amendment rights.
What followed this incident was even more telling. The following day approximately 200 Hispanic students walked out of class to (apparently) protest the decision of the administration. During the march, they chanted "We want respect" and "Si se puede (Yes We Can)" When asked for her opinion, one of the protesters stated"
"It's kind of disrespectful that they (the students who wore Americans flags ) would do that on this day I mean we don't go around on the 4th of July wearing red, white and green saying "Viva Mexico" because that's disrespectful..."
This was followed by a Tea Party rally in which four of the students received a standing ovation. And much to my pleasant surprise, some thoughtful words and placards were presented by the participants. Jeanine Croft, a graduate of Live Oaks High School stated:
"This is a catalyst for some good discussion," Croft said. "It's an opportunity to discuss this and refocus." Croft said students need to be taught in school to be proud Americans like she was, saluting in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. "And the Hispanic children should be proud to be Hispanic every day not just on May 5 - but don't ever expect us to put the American flag away."
Indeed Croft is correct, this incident should have served as a catalyst for a much needed discussion or in progressive parlance "a teachable moment." Here are but a few of the many concepts and questions that should have been presented to the students, teachers and general public:
1. If indeed there was a risk that the presentation of the American Flag, or for that matter any cultural symbol could provoke some students to conflict, why didn't the administration
confront the intolerance of those students, rather than curtail the free expression of the five students? Why didn't they emphasize that just as we respect your right to proudly wave the Mexican Flag, you must respect the right of other students to wave any flag of their choosing? The administration could have used this incident to promote the merits of tolerance, pluralism and freedom of expression.
2. Would the same school administrators dared to have asked students to hide symbols of their Mexican Heritage, out of the fear that it may have offended some students? If not, why did they not extend the same courtesy to students wishing to present symbols of the United States? What does this say about the ideology and political culture of the school administrators and academia in general? Is this a product of a worldview that encourages the expression and celebration of all cultures, except shared American culture?
3. Why didn't the school administration confront the 200 students who walked out and ask they what they found so offensive about the American Flag and (presumably) American identity? They should have boldly emphasized that just as the students should be proud of their Mexican heritage, so should they be proud of their American identity.
4. Is their anything in the curriculum or broader academic culture that has encouraged these (or any other) students to be be resentful towards the United States? Is this the end product of educational and political elites who eschew assimilation in favor of diversity? Is this the product of teachers who foment a sense of victimization rather than appreciation for the unparalleled liberty and prosperity that the United States offers their students? To those who say that the school should teach diverse students about their culture and traditions, my response is: parents, religious and community organizations are more than welcome to teach children what it means to be (for example) Jewish, Mexican or Korean, but it's the job of schools to teach students what it means to be American.
5. Why should the school sponsor the celebration of a holiday that pertains to a single segment of the student body? The school administration should treat ethnic holidays, the same way it treats religious celebrations. Even if a segment of the student body is demographically dominant, the school should only officially promote the celebration of holidays that are shared by all students. This does not mean that student clubs should not be allowed to use school facilities to celebrate and educate their fellow students about their holidays, traditions and culture. In other words, it would be inappropriate to have the school promote the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah or Cinco de Mayo, but it would be perfectly appropriate to allow the Christian, Jewish or Mexican club use the gym or field to host a celebration during lunch time or after school hours.
6. Is this an isolated incident or does it reveal that millions of individuals are not assimilating to American culture. First, keep in mind that assimilation does not mean that they have to reject their ethnic and religious heritage. And second, keep in mind that just because these students speak English and enjoy popular culture, does not mean that they are truly assimilated. When one is assimilated they feel an affection for their nation and it's shared culture and symbols. Clearly the 200 students who walked out of class did not hold great affection for the United States. If educational and political institutions are failing to fully assimilate millions of citizens, what social and political implications does this hold in our increasingly diverse nation?
7. No incidents of white students protesting the celebration of Cinco de Mayo were reported. Is this because anti-racism curricula are based on a vision in which whites are the perpetrators and diverse populations are the sole recipients of racism and intolerance?
Alas, the school administrators tried to sweep this under the rug as quickly as possible and a teachable moment was lost forever.