Many readers have likely already learned of a disturbing situation at Oxford Preparatory Academy, a Mission Viejo charter school. The details of the situation are unclear / disputed. What is clear is that during a field trip to Riley’s Farm, a Civil War era based learning center, a noose was placed around the neck of the only African American student in the class. The class was going to have a lesson on the historical practice of hangings.
The unfortunate aftermath of the event has been a school administration becoming defensive, while an upset parent begins to take legal action. As I stated, the details of the situation are unclear, and it is not for me to weigh in on the particulars. But the broader situation is remarkable.
Placing a noose around a child’s neck is a colossal mistake in school or anywhere else. The fact that an African American student was involved makes the situation exponentially worse. While this school lesson was a failure, it seems that other things might be learned (if anyone pauses to listen).
1. Historically oppressed communities have a heightened sensitivity to the language and tools used to dehumanize them. They have every right to guard themselves and their children from the insensitive use of those things. Doing so is not playing the “race card.”
2. When a child does not feel safe to attend his or her school because of discrimination, it is the responsibility of that school to actively listen to the student, and to take direct action to improve the learning environment.
3. Under normal circumstances, the numerous allegations of racist comments and actions by the teacher in question are difficult to believe. But that is because we do not want to believe them. The fact that a noose was placed around the neck of an African American child as a classroom lesson, demonstrates a level of ignorance in insensitivity in which racist “jokes” could very likely emerge.
4. The details of who said or did what how many times are an unfortunate distraction from a real problem. Racism and other forms of bigotry still shape our society and our schools
I hope that one day no student will feel skin-color is a barrier to his or her opportunities. And, I hope that one day we will all take these moments as a chance to learn from one another, instead of building an even higher wall of defense.
Rev. Kent Doss
Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Mission Viejo CA