Education Opinion

Fifteen Years Later: Have We Learned Anything About Unity and Community?

By Nancy Flanagan — September 11, 2016 2 min read
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I’m avoiding the fifteen-year remembrance pieces on television this morning.

There was a time--a relatively long period of time--when I believed that our national response to overwhelming tragedy might include an incentive to do more than fight back (erroneously, as it turned out) against The Forces Opposed to Democracy.

I actually thought that absorbing the lessons of 9/11 might refocus my particular bailiwick, education, on the necessity of future-thinking, diplomacy, and the mutual needs of our global community.

But not so much.

Instead, we are concentrating, like lasers, on “efficient” school governance models, higher profit margins for common educational services, and better data outcomes for kids in poverty despite the fact that those data outcomes don’t really lead to more opportunity.

So much for community. So much for peace and justice and aiming for equal opportunity.

This morning, I picked up my digital newspaper and discovered that privileged white kids in one of the most highly regarded public school systems in my state (based on those data outcomes) spent Friday night waving TRUMP signs and a so-called Betsy Ross flag (which may or may not have racist origins) across a football field at the urban school students and parents on the other side. A father from the Grand Rapids Public School district, attending the game to support the football team and the marching band, penned a powerful letter to the Forest Hills school community:

Your team, your coaches, your families were our guests, yet it seems many of your students are unaware of the negative impact these actions would have on members of our community in our home field. One could argue these boys are ignorant of the symbols they embrace and display--so they are just kids. That only goes so far. Is it not the role of their parents, you, and your district staff to make sure they aware that their actions in this context could have negative consequences? Certainly they have the right of free speech, but is sharing such politically charged symbols actions and words at high school football game the right set of actions for this context?

Spot on.

I’m sure the administrative team at Forest Hills is in full damage control mode. I actually know folks who are teachers and school leaders at Forest Hills and respect their work and beliefs. My own school district survived appalling student behavior on more than one occasion. This will, eventually, go away--but it represents something much larger and more sinister, something that impacts all of us here in the home of the brave. I hope the teachers in both schools are ready (and allowed) to discuss these events with their students in age-appropriate ways. I hope that civil discourse is still possible.

This seems to be the long-term outcome, then, of being attacked on our own soil: more division, self-indulgence, and deepening racial fault lines. Winners and losers. To hell with unity or even civil behavior--dominance has become our national goal, our trickle-down response to all conflict.

If 9/11--arguably the most shocking thing that’s happened in a generation--was not a catalyst for positive social change, what hope do we have for preserving and enhancing our (once globally admired, and still considerable) public resources? If a friendly competition between two public school football teams becomes a platform for symbolic animosity and racism, and we let that stand--what does that say about us?

It’s been a quiet start to the day here. No need to see the shocking footage again, or re-live that morning at my middle school. Instead, I’ve been looking at other things--filling my mind with ideas and perspectives that cause me to believe all is not lost in the land of the free, that other citizens still hold out hope for unity and community.

Like this piece, from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette: Breakdown of the Common Good.

I don’t know who Ed Eiler is, but his questions could form the basis of Social Studies lessons in every classroom in the US, K-16, for the entire school year:

Should educational opportunities be made available based upon the ability to pay? Should we pay children to read books or get good grades? Should people receive health care on the basis of their ability to pay? Should access to politicians and the political system be governed by those who have more money? Should legal representation be affected by one's financial circumstances? Should you be able to pay someone else to take your place in serving your country? Should citizenship be for sale?

I would add: What are we teaching our children about unity and community?


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.