Think before you shout

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

The High Museum of Art was one of our favorite places to visit. Inspiring. Beautiful. And the front lawn made a perfect spot for Frisbee, played in the company of the red Calder mobile! We also enjoyed adding a play at The Puppetry Arts Museum to our day, as much fun for 16 year olds as for 6 year olds, (“Jungle Book” was amazing); and The Wren’s Nest, home of author Joel Chandler Harris was a delight to the budding writers in my Creative Writing classes, sitting under the large shade trees as Akbar and other storytellers recounted African legends and trickster tales which became the fodder for Harris’ Brer Rabbit stories. The Cuban restaurant at Little Five Points was a favorite spot for lunch after visiting a great book store across the street with some amazing first editions, like Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Lestat” priced at $800! Almost as exciting as the street corner poets my students respectfully stopped to listen to as they recited original works. Cool stuff.
During the 15 years that I was at McIntosh High School, I was known as the “Field Trip Queen.” While most people who used that title did so with a smile, a big grin which encouraged me to believe that I was admired and perhaps even somewhat envied for wearing that crown, I would be kidding myself if I did not also believe that there was a faction among faculty who thought I was shirking classroom duties, playing hooky from my “serious” teaching chores.
Anyone who has ever planned, coordinated, scheduled drivers, collected money and permission slips, and most importantly, filled out the forms providing detailed information to county officials as to the value of the field trip and how it related to the curricula; anyone who has juggled all those fire batons knows it is far easier to stay in the classroom, safe with a textbook and a chalkboard (that certainly dates me—no chalk in today’s classrooms)!
All that is to say, I have years of experience with 15, 16, and 17 year olds both inside and outside the classroom; most were children from solidly middle class families; from homes where the parents were interested in both how their child performed and how they behaved. On parent/teacher night it was common to have 80-90 percent of one or both parents attend. They cared— not just about the grades, but they cared also about how their children behaved — these big, tall, gangly kids with goofy grins, cracking voices, sweet smiles and sparkling eyes—and they attempted to instill in them respect for others. I suspect the parents of the boys of Covington High did too.
When the video footage that dominated two news cycles concerning the youngsters from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky went “viral,” when a school-sponsored field trip to our beautiful National Capitol “blew up,” a situation not created by them, I could not believe that adults calling themselves journalists, professional commentators, and politicians would be so mean-spirited as to quickly condemn, defame, and malign children who had found themselves in a tense and ugly situation instigated and directed by two shameful groups of adults.
First the Black Nation of Israel and then a group of Native American marchers led by Nathan Phillips, himself an example of those who often present themselves as “victim,” but are instead often instigators, these two groups of seemingly bitter adults accosted a group of teens who had no idea how to behave in such a highly tense and potentially explosive situation.
Sensing trapped animals, the hunters, determined to “take down” their prey, a group made up of now terrified kids, saw the perfect target for the ever-present media piranhas. The giggling bunch of boys, motivated by nervous anxiety, were chanting their own school’s slogan (with permission granted by their chaperones—where were these adults anyway?). It was obvious in their faces and their herky-jerky movements that they were mirroring the men, led by the self-professed “ex-Vietnam veteran” Phillips, who supposedly had been dehumanized upon his return (he never went to Vietnam). Who would not have been anxious in the face of a rather frightening looking old man ceaselessly beating a drum in your face? What 15 or 16 year old is yet equipped to handle a situation like this? None that I have known or taught.
So much of the terrible aftermath could have been avoided had the adults in this situation, the school leaders, the Archbishop, had they not jumped into the fray to condemn these poor kids for not better handling a tense situation that could easily have turned into a bloody brawl! No, the media and twitterers nationwide along with presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, screamed their spiteful words, branding these children as “haters.” Why is this word used so readily to blister any opponent, stop them in their tracks? Such a despicable word; today it is thrown around to blacken the reputation of others with no proof, guaranteed to shut you up! When will all these name callers face some kind of consequences? Many have not even withdrawn their untrue stories caused by their breathless rush to judgement! It seems that the standard today is to create the narrative first and then look for something, no matter how thin, to match or support their hasty tale. This is not journalism.
Those field trips to Atlanta remain one of the high points in my teaching career. Watching those youngsters make such awesome memories during the Wonder Years that were their youth. I, of course, was reminded of the groups I chaperoned over the years when the Covington group found themselves in such a difficult position. How sad their trip was spoiled. So much more than “spoiled.” There are no words for the memories that this group will always live with. Could we not let them have their Wonder Years? I thank God my students were only met with the kindness and generosity of others on our outings, others who modeled what being an adult was all about. Tolerance. Grace. Love.

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