In California, A Black Lives Matter Ethics Mess

Here’s the story, and then we’ll look at the ethics miscreants who made an ethics  mess of it….

At Del Paso Manor Elementary, near Sacramento, a parent volunteer in a sixth grade class asked the teacher if she could teach an art lesson about diversity. The male teacher told her in front of the class that “his lessons would contain lessons with ‘a bunch of old white guys’ so her content may not fit.” The volunteer  was confused and “a bit concerned” by the statement, but went ahead with the project she had envisioned. She asked the students to each make  a poster that focused on something “they wanted to see changed at the school.”  Four students created Black Lives Matter posters.

The next day, the teacher told the parent volunteer that he had thrown the four posters away because they were “inappropriate and political.” The teacher asked the volunteer “whether students were getting shot at the school and demanded answers regarding why a presentation on Black Lives Matter was relevant” to the school.

The volunteer complained to the principal, who backed up the teacher and his decision, agreeing that Black Lives Matter posters are political statements and off limits for public display in the school. Then someone, perhaps the volunteer but maybe a parent, took the matter to the ACLU. The group then contacted the  school district, and argued that  Black Lives Matter posters were protected speech under the California Education Code because they “convey a student’s thoughts, ideas and beliefs in the support of black lives,” and were also protected under the California Constitution.

Ugh.

Now the ethics verdicts:

  • The students are 100% blameless. Based on the instructions they got from the volunteer, it was completely reasonable (and also predictable) that some of them might choose to make Black Lives Matter posters.

As 11- and 12-year olds, the sixth-graders’ understanding of what Black Lives Matters is about is rudimentary at best.

  • The ACLU is just making trouble, and that isn’t its mission. It is also being disingenuous. They know that BLM isn’t about “supporting black lives.”

The organization’s mission statement begins in part,

“The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

We are expansive. We are a collective of liberators who believe in an inclusive and spacious movement. We also believe that in order to win and bring as many people with us along the way, we must move beyond the narrow nationalism that is all too prevalent in Black communities. We must ensure we are building a movement that brings all of us to the front.

We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise….”

This is as racially divisive and politically charged as any white supremacy screed, and completely inappropriate for display at a school. Of course, the ACLU wouldn’t come galloping in on its metaphorical white steed to protect a student’s right to claim that white lives matter while claiming they are being “replaced” by a brown invasion.  The ACLU won’t take up the banner for teachers and professors who get fired for uttering “the N-word” in a non-denigrating context, but it will support Black Lives Matter propaganda by deliberately misrepresenting its message, making a high-profile mountain out of what should be a local mole-hill.

  • The teacher’s handling of the incident was incompetent. He should not have thrown away the students’ work, but rather, you know, teach the class about the nuances of the issue and why such a posters would not be appropriate, nor were they consistent with the intended message of “diversity.”

He also incompetently and inadequately supervised the volunteer. If her instructions really were as wide open as to make a poster about something they “wanted to see changed at the school,” such directions required boundaries and guidance. Good: “Let’s be respectful and civil to one another.” Good: “Respect the opinions of others, even if you disagree with them.” Bad: “Impeach the motherfucker.”

Noting the Golden Rule would have been appropriate (since it appears in nearly every world philosophical system in some for, that would not require stepping on the religion landmine). The teacher didn’t cover himself in glory in his arguments to his volunteer, either. He should have said that Black Lives Matter is not a pro-diversity organization, and thus the posters on that topic did not conform to the assignment. “Are students were getting shot at the school?” is the kind of retort a sixth grader might make.

  • The teaching volunteer was irresponsible to escalate the dispute as she apparently did, especially since she provoked this mess with a careless and insufficiently considered assignment.

Good job, everybody!

9 thoughts on “In California, A Black Lives Matter Ethics Mess

  1. As my middle child often says, “People, what a bag of shit.” That goes for the teacher, the escalating volunteer, the ACLU, and, much less so, the Principal who tried too hard to defend school policy when letting it go and de-emphasizing the four posters would have lessened the weight of their impact.

    The students are genuinely blameless, though I worry about four 11 year olds of, what, 30 students, choosing BLM as the subject matter for their posters. Says a lot about the prominence of BLM’s power of indoctrination over young people.

    I also wonder what the four poster makers will think of BLM’s mission statement when they are astute enough to understand its implications.

  2. I disagree somewhat. If the instructions were …make a poster that focused on something “they wanted to see changed at the school.”, that seems pretty clear, and justifies the teacher’s question as to ‘ “whether students were getting shot at the school and … why a presentation on Black Lives Matter was relevant” to the school.” ‘ This would seem a much more solid argument and clearer message to manage with sixth graders than a debate on whether black lives matter is “diverse”. It’s also much more transferable and consistently applicable to other off-topic offerings…A poster on the diet of Galapagos tortoises could be tossed out under the same rules without having to address how diverse (or not) their diet might be.

    Still, as you say, could have been handled better all around.

    • I don’t think so. Would a school shooting suggest that they needed a black lives matter chapter? Neither the group nor its slogan nor its cause involves school shootings. Police shootings of black suspects take place on the street,typically. It’s apples and oranges, and in fact proves that the 6th graders didn’t understand the assignment, or ignored it

      • “Would a school shooting suggest that they needed a black lives matter chapter?”

        Well, it might, in certain circumstances (e.g., black student, white resource officer). But presumably that’s not happening there, and I think that’s the teacher’s point as to why the work wasn’t acceptable in light of the assignment’s parameters. In his off-the-cuff comment, he might not have expressed the idea with as much detail and accuracy as could be desired, but yeah, my impression was that “apples and oranges” was essentially what he was saying.

    • I don’t think so. Would a school shooting suggest that they needed a black lives matter chapter? Neither the group nor its slogan nor its cause involves school shootings. Police shootings of black suspects take place on the street,typically. It’s apples and oranges, and in fact proves that the 6th graders didn’t understand the assignment, or ignored it

  3. Often, when people tell me that the wish to build a southern border wall is racist because evil white supremacists are trying to keep the brown people out, I lament that the people of Mexico aren’t the kind of white that people count as white, because I have the feeling that while *some* of the reason people are excited about the wall is racially charged, the message would not materially change even if the population of Mexico ethnically resembled Norway.

    Similarly, I lament here that someone didn’t draw a picture of Donald Trump, wearing a red ball cap, building that wall, creating a job, or putting a jurist on a panel (although those last two might be hard for an eleven year old to conceptualize). not because I want the kid to think like that… No, I’d prefer we let kids be kids, but because I think that the teacher might have thrown that poster out, much for the same reason he threw the BLM posters out, and it would have shown that the disposal wasn’t racially or even partisanly motivated.

  4. The number one problem here, without a shred of doubt, started with the teacher. Based on what I’ve read here (I haven’t looked for any other articles, so maybe I don’t know the entire story, but I trust Jack’s telling), the teacher failed in his duties. His job was to say, “well, if you are going to teach a lesson, Ms. Volunteer, we are going to need to sit down and discuss the lesson’s focus, the expectations, the parameters, etc, etc…” We don’t know whether this was done or not, nor do we know the qualifications of said volunteer. Is she qualified to teach art in some way? Let’s hope so. But the teacher is the ultimate problem here, because he failed to foresee possible issues with the assignment. I had a friend who taught English for several decades, and he always added to his open-ended assignments like this that certain topics were off limits. Not because they weren’t important, but because they were mostly successful at derailing the classroom learning environment due to their ability to cause division. This teacher should have had something in place to avoid unnecessary conflict. Does that water down the lesson? Possibly. Is it worth the fight it obviously started? I doubt it…

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