On Tuesday, Feb. 13, eight students from Paradise Valley High School placed their backpacks on the ground, then laid down on the floor. Someone took a photo of them from above. That photo was posted to Snapchat.
On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Paradise Valley Unified School District announced the students were disciplined, though officials did not provide details.
The shape those eight students created for the photo was a swastika.
There’s so much here that is troubling, it’s hard to know where to start.
First, the students should know what that symbol represents and the anger that it incites. We realize teens don’t always make the best decisions, but what happened to a little common decency?
Second, while we can condemn the message those students decided to make public, it was free speech. The First Amendment to the Constitution says free speech is our right, even if it’s incredibly stupid and insensitive speech.
How do we balance a student’s right to free speech with our desire to keep people from inciting hatred and possibly violence against others?
Third, we can’t make people stop hating. The school district can discipline those eight teens, but is that going to change their views? Or will those views become more solidified in their hearts and minds?
Fourth, whatever happened to responsibility? Those teens did something that was very hurtful to people. We’re only 75 years or so from the Nazi death camps and the plan to exterminate people. Everyone knows what that symbol means today. If you choose to display it, then you need to take responsibility for the action.
Finally, why is this an issue? Why do people still hate a group of people they don’t know for some ridiculous reason, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever? How can anyone hate someone they don’t know?
And how as a society have we failed when our young people think displaying such images of hate is acceptable, even if it was nothing more than a misguided prank?
If it sounds like we’re divided, we are. We support free speech, but condemn this act. We recognize that a school is a place of diversity where all our students need to feel safe and secure, especially in the wake of the Florida shootings. So we accept the school district’s decision to punish these students, because we believe in taking responsibility for your actions.
But mostly we wonder why this is still happening in 2018. Why haven’t we advanced as a society to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a place where people are evaluated not by the color of their skin, or to whom they pray, but by the content of their character?
It was a great dream, and we should all work toward making it reality.