Law & Courts Opinion

A #SafetyPin Thanksgiving

By Nancy Flanagan — November 24, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Fifteen days ago, we woke up to a new world.

We now have a new and, frankly, shocking cast of characters heading up all the important political and social initiatives in America. Free-floating rage and casual acts of terror have become commonplace:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has documented more than 700 incidents of active bigotry since Donald Trump's election; 40 percent of all the incidents occurred in schools. Of these documented incidents, 206 were anti-immigrant, 151 were anti-Black, 80 were anti-gay, 60 were vandalism that involved swastikas, 51 were anti-Muslim, and 36 were attacks on women.

The fact that schools have become a staging ground for active bigotry is not at all surprising to me. Kids always reflect the values they’ve seen expressed at home and in the media (whether that media is accurate or not). Teachers know this. And they know precisely how to deal with ugly student behaviors without involving their own political beliefs.

As it happened, I was scheduled to work with young musicians in a public school for three days, immediately following the election. Each day I was there, I saw more teachers wearing safety pins. Each lunchtime discussion was more focused on “how can we all help kids understand that they are safe here?” This was an overwhelmingly white school in a small town where there were lots of red voters, but teachers’ first response was toward dignity, equity, and peace for their students.

Now, I understand and appreciate the pushback against safety pins. They’re a cheap, adopted response to generations of blatant discrimination. They’re too little, too late, too faddish, way too easily co-opted.

On those days, in that context, however, they were a first stab at caring. They were instructional tools.

And guess what? Even feeble-effort safety pins are so scary that they have been banned in at least one school district—not surprisingly, a white suburban district in Kansas. During the same week that our cherished Bill of Rights permitted a meeting of white nationalists saluting Donald Trump in the nation’s capital.

This might be a hill where teachers are willing to die.

I’ve written plenty about how teachers have been officially discouraged from any number of things that constitute professional educational practice: crafting their own lessons, interpreting curricular guidelines to fit what they know about children, trusting their own data and observations. Now they’re forbidden to act as guardians of children’s well-being?

My friends Bruce Baker and Bill Ivey reminded that (in Twitter-speak) “in context of classroom and/or when acting as agent of state/district, teachers lack 1st amendment protection. Point here is that district has authority to regulate curricular speech in this way. Doesn’t mean they have to, though. Ideally, teachers and administrators can work together to establish a good, safe environment for all kids, avoid this. Most disturbing, in current political context, expressing messages of human decency seems to qualify as politically divisive speech.”

Exactly. When does human decency surpass Don’t Rock the Boat school leadership? Aren’t these extraordinary times? Aren’t the lives of children and the fate of public education at stake?

I am embarrassed to say that the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), an organization I belong to, which should be a stronghold of unvarnished teacher advocacy, sent around a little memo saying:

For anyone who has worked seriously in policy and advocacy, you know that this work requires deep thought and a chess-player's mentality. In other words, we must constantly ask ourselves, "If I take this action, what will be the result if A occurs or B occurs? What will be the impact of my actions two or three steps down the road? Will the impact of my action match my intent in making it?" These are serious questions and require deep thoughtful planning. To that end, I would ask that you not post political commentary on the NNSTOY Facebook pages; please keep this to your personal pages.

And while you’re at it, keep your safety pins under wraps, OK?

Here’s my hope, on this Thanksgiving Day—a day when we are called to pause, as a nation, and be grateful for our abundant blessings.

I hope that schools will once again become a staging ground for re-learning how to behave as if we were, in fact, blessed. As if we had a free and fair government, a vigilant and courageous press and a cornucopia of opportunity for all, not just the economic top tier. As if our clear purpose, as educators, was to build smart citizens and encourage critical thought.

Pass the turkey.

Related Tags:

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.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts Gunmaker Is Seeking School Records of Children Who Died in the Sandy Hook Massacre
Families want a court order to keep subpoenaed school records for five children and four educators who died in the 2012 attack confidential.
Edmund H. Mahony, Hartford Courant
2 min read
A sign is seen outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
A sign is seen outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Patrick Raycraft/Hartford Courant via TNS