Teaching kids the wrong lesson


This time it’s not a parent or a teacher, but the news media who are teaching kids the wrong lesson – about politics, about protest, and about civic participation. After a negative news report by KSTP 5 and an even more negative blog post by KARE 11’s Gordon Severson, Southside Family School started getting telephone and email threats. Why? Because 6th-8th grade students at the school participated in a protest against Governor Pawlenty’s proposed welfare cuts.

Severson’s long blog post was titled “5-year-old pawns in the chess game of politics,”  said in part: 

The planning for all of this was nearly flawless, but among those chanting about budget cuts dealing death, were children that probably don’t understand what the word “welfare” means. Most of them probably don’t even know what a governor does or who he is. However, they are taught to hate him and the “rich people” at a very young age. Why would anyone want to teach their children hate?

The beautiful part of being a kid is that for maybe 10-18 years they can play, experiment, and live without fear or confusion of the harsh reality of adult life. As a kid I had little to no knowledge regarding taxes, abortion, political parties, or anything else related to the adult world. I was more focused on what coloring crayon I was going to use next, and not what issue I would protest next. …

Are they really mature enough to understand what they’re a part of? Do they need to be taken out of their blissfully young and ignorant world in order to further a cause they don’t know anything about?

Apart from the fact that the demonstrators were 6th-8th grade students — and they’d tell you that is nothing like being five years old — there’s no evidence that they were pawns or ignorant of the issues.

In fact, based on my acquaintance with Southside Family School students, I’m betting that they were pretty familiar with what the word “welfare” means and it’s entirely possible that some of their families survive only with welfare, medical assistance or some other form of aid targeted for cuts.

Many young people reject the “blissful ignorance” that Severson advocates. Those at Southside Family School have a curriculum that includes lots of education about the civil rights movement, in which young people were on the cutting edge. Grade school and high school students marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were knocked down by fire hoses, attacked by police dogs, and dragged off to jail.

Flo Golod, who headed Southside Family School for 20 years, explains on the school’s website about its commitment to civil rights and social justice education:

But at Southside, social justice means more than youth engagement and a basic commitment to equity issues. It means that children themselves learn by doing social justice work, and do so well in their academics because they have learned that education is about them, about the roots of racism and its local legacy, about the reasons nearly half the houses in their neighborhoods are foreclosed, about the systemic reasons their mothers are poor and about why asthma rates are so high in big cities. …

As for being taught to “hate,” as Severson blithely alleges – that’s a far different matter than learning about social justice, or participating in a demonstration at the State Capitol.

Opposing injustice is not the same thing as hating. Hate leads people to spit on Congressional representatives and call them racist and homophobic names. Or throw bricks through windows of Democrats after the passage of health care reform. Or cut the propane line at the home of a Congressional Representative Tom Perriello’s brother, after a Tea Partier erroneously posted his address online, saying it was Perriello’s address.

Hate leads people to threaten the children at Southside Family School. The threats to Southside Family School and its students that came after KSTP and KARE’s coverage of the demonstration are described on the school’s website:

Recent news articles on TV and the internet have highlighted Southside Family Charter School’s social justice mission and successful civic engagement program.  We have received several requests for follow up interviews.  As we have been for years, we are happy to discuss the school’s curriculum, philosophy and results.  We are proud of our students and our curriculum.  

However, we have also received vitriolic voice and e-mail messages.  Some of these messages have been personal attacks, bordering on threatening against the school.  At this time, our primary focus is on the safety and well being of our students so we will not be commenting further on the specific action at the Capitol.  Requests for more information about the school and our curriculum will be taken in writing and responded to within the next two weeks.

In addition to requesting information, KARE 11 should make an apology for its inaccurate and disrespectful characterization of these young people.