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Blame the Teachers for Racist Paraphernalia

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There are some acts of such utter stupidity for which the only recourse is to publicly shame those involved, in the hopes that doing so will jolt them into smartening up. So, to the teachers and administrators of Sutton District High School in York Region, Toronto, Ont., plus a cohort of particularly boneheaded high school students and their inadequate parents (from whom these kids clearly inherited some rather unfortunate genes), I ask the following: What the hell were you thinking?

Over the weekend, the Toronto Star revealed a disturbing trend at Sutton District High: Some students there have taken to sporting the Confederate flag "on bandanas, lighters, belt buckles, backpacks and pickup truck windows."

Yes, the same Confederate flag proudly flown by the South during the U.S. Civil War and a symbol for those who are still fighting to get back that old Southern way of life -- which included enslaving black people. And now it has been adopted by young people here in Canada ... where once slaves came to escape from their Southern masters, traveling along the underground railroad (it's a part of our heritage, dammit!).

First and foremost, the educators at Sutton should be blamed for this mess. Per the Star article: "The Confederate flag became popular at Sutton District High School in the last two years," according to the school's principal, Dawn Laliberté.

Wait a minute.

You mean to tell me this has been going on for TWO YEARS and the school has only now decided to step in? What exactly was the administration waiting for? A Ku Klux Klan meeting to break out at recess? Because that's the sort of people that fly the Confederate flag.

This should have been dealt with immediately, not allowed to fester for two years (with more and more students presumably infected as time went on). At first sight of Confederate paraphernalia, the school should have forced students to remove the emblem and instituted a school-wide ban with appropriate explanation as to why the Confederate flag is offensive. "Our first step is always to educate," Laliberté told the Star.

Wrong -- the first, immediate step should have been to force students to stop donning racist paraphernalia. Full stop. You want to make this a teachable episode? Fine, coming down hard at the first whiff of anyone bearing a Confederate flag on school property would have been the best possible lesson.

The school isn't completely to blame, though, for this fiasco. There are also the parents, who presumably saw their kids leaving for school sporting Confederate symbols yet said nothing. How could they have allowed their children to leave home that way?

There are two possible explanations -- one, that the parents were indeed aware of what their kids were wearing and saw no problem with it because they themselves identify with the Confederate flag or, two, that the parents had no idea of the underlying meaning of the symbol (beyond it being painted on the roof of the Dukes of Hazzard car). Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse, but both possibilities point to an egregious failure in parenting.

Finally, there's the students. They're the least to blame here, really, because a lot of kids are dumbasses -- so things like this are to be expected and the hope is they will grow out of it at some point (though they're clearly lacking in positive influences at school and at home). One student, an anonymous sophomore who "plans to keep wearing" Confederate paraphernalia, said "It's more about the country values, we don't think of it as racist." To him I say this: It is racist, and there's no place in your country's values for your "country values." The sooner you learn that, the less of disaster your life is going to be.

Now, having doled out a healthy portion of shame, allow me to conclude on a bright note. At the end of the Star story, a student says he'll continue to wear his Confederate accessories because the school's decision to ban them contravenes his freedom of speech -- to which another student responds by saying, "You can buy a f------ swastika if you want, it's still racist."

Bless that anonymous kid because s/he is the ultimate defence against the Confederate fad. The most potent antidote to what's going on at Sutton District High School is the students themselves, who will learn more in their four years there from each other than from all their teachers -- at any level of schooling (though something tells me the scholastic careers of the Confederate crew will probably go no further than Grade 12) -- combined. Smart students -- the ones who already understand how damaging racism can be, and why it must be fought at all times -- have the duty to educate their dimwitted classmates.

Because the adults sure as hell can't be trusted to do it.